Browns will be better, but . . .
As the 2018 National Football League season approaches for the Browns, there are two absolutes in predicting their fortunes, and the distinct possibility of a third.
There is no question the 2018 edition of this team is infinitely better – it’s not even close – than what passed for a football team in last season’s very forgettable and unfortunate season, during which it underwhelmed opponents in every game.
And there is no question this team will not duplicate that sorry feat in spite of existing in the formative stages of what very well could be the development of the first honest-to-goodness team to reward its fans with a winning season.
As much as some of the national media has glommed on to the Browns and the club’s ardent and emotional fandom believe a corner will be turned, the brakes must be at least tapped if not fully pumped.
The Browns will win games this season. Along the way, they will probably win a game or two they’re not supposed to and lose at least that many to teams that are not as talented.
It is a football team that needs to learn how to win. Not just win. Discover the reasons behind victories and apply them in future games. And that is where the distinct possibility of a third absolute enters the picture.
Hue Jackson’s job as head coach depends largely on how the Browns perform out of the gate. It is not a schedule fraught with traps. There are winnable games in the first half of the season.
That being the case, Jackson’s hold on his job – he’s extremely fortunate he has one after a 1-31 record in his first two seasons – becomes tenuous and the short leash that tethers him to that job will be cut.
In order to keep his job as head coach, Jackson must win at least three games in the first half or else he runs out of excuses to draw a paycheck from Jimmy Haslam III.
He has solid coordinators in Todd Haley for the offense and Gregg Williams for the defense. His general manager has furnished him with as much talent as this franchise has seen in the last generation.
It will be interesting to see as the season unfolds just how much Jackson has learned how to be strictly a head coach. Delegating authority is one of the prime factors in the success or failure of a head coach.
Making the transition from coordinator or top assistant coach to the head job is met with failure far more than success. The jury -- at least on the ownership level -- is still out on Jackson, but it starts closing in on a verdict Sunday in the season opener at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
There’s an old saying when it comes to success/failure rate of assistant coaches in the National Football League. Some of them are lieutenants; the others are generals.
For example, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is a general. The likes of former assistant coaches like Don Shula, Chuck Noll, Bill Belichick. Sean Payton and Pete Carroll are generals. Jackson is a lieutenant.
The only head coach the Browns have employed since the return in 1999 who was a general was Butch Davis. The other seven were clearly lieutenants and failed miserably.
Davis departed because he took on way too many responsibilities in the front office, as well as on the field, and it short-circuited his tenure. He would have been the right fit if he hadn’t aspired to loftier goals, which badly interfered with his coaching and effectiveness.
This franchise needs a general, someone who can come in and win right away with the talent on board. Someone who can command the respect of his players and maximize their talents. That someone is not Hue Jackson.
As a result, look for the Browns to struggle until Haslam has seen enough and pulls the plug. That could happen as soon as the quarter pole after game four in Oakland or as far off as the second game of the season in Pittsburgh (game eight).
It is unfair for the fans to expect this team to completely turn around and be competitive in every game. The offense, at least as long as quarterback Tyrod Taylor remains vertical, will be all right. Nothing special.
Taylor plays in a fashion that can best be described as “not to lose.” His conservative approach minimizes interceptions, but can be extremely dull. Don’t expect him to air it out to a speedster like rookie Antonio Callaway. He doesn’t have that kind of an arm.
Don’t expect much out of the offense early on with a line that is still in flux. Jackson has hinted rookie Desmond Harrison might start at left tackle, bumping Joel Bitonio back inside to left guard. Cohesiveness up front will be a work in progress. That’s a problem.
The defense will not be a problem . . . unless the offense can’t stay on the field. If opposing defenses catch on that the Cleveland attack will be much more conservative than it has been the last couple of seasons, they might counter by squeezing the field.
If the offense does not cooperate with clock-eating drives that keep the defense fresh, that side of the ball will log far more playing time and lose their effectiveness. But they will be entertaining. Count on Williams to dial up as many, if not more, blitzes than he did last season, though. That will never change.
Myles Garrett, provided he stays healthy, will be among the league leaders in sacks. The addition of rookie cornerback Denzel Ward will factor in more than the paltry seven interceptions the Browns had last season.
The key to this season hinges on how well Taylor handles the offense and takes care of the football. Yes, he threw only four picks last season. But he also connected on just 14 scoring passes in 15 games. That number has to increase.
Bottom line: If the Browns win four games this season, it should be considered a strong step in the right direction. Anything more is gravy. Anything less and Jackson is history. Perhaps as soon as the second Steelers game.
Look for victories against Cincinnati (sweep), Baltimore and the New York Jets. They’ll be 2-3 after five games before losing five in a row and nine of their last 11, both victories coming against the Bengals.