Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Mid-week thoughts

 Hue Jackson is perilously close to losing his job as head coach of the Browns. He just doesn’t realize it yet. The danger signs are lurking.

You can bet the rabid fan base, which has every right to be angry after last Sunday’s disappointing 38-14 home loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, won’t mind his departure at all. The sooner, they believe, the better.

Those fans expected a lot more than what they got in that loss, magnifying its importance.  It wasn’t just another loss by a franchise that has made losing routine. It was a loss that followed the first five games of the season in which the Browns actually played well enough to win all five. But didn’t.

So was the L.A. setback an aberration? Just one of those games in a season where nothing goes right for whatever reason, not nearly indicative of how good the team really is?  Not necessarily.

It is entirely possible, given the ragged effort put forth in the Chargers’ debacle, that Jackson no longer has his team’s ears. They hear him, of course, but are not listening. When a team no longer listens to the head coach, red flags fly.

Has he totally lost the team? Probably not yet. But again, the danger signs loom. There was absolutely no reason for this team to come out flatter than a crepe against the Chargers.

When a team comes out emotionally vacant in an important game, the blame automatically, and correctly, falls on the head coach. That team was not properly prepared emotionally to play a game of football. With only 16 chances a season, that is inexcusable and unforgivable.

General Manager John Dorsey and owner Jimmy Haslam III had to be extremely upset as they watched the Browns get embarrassingly slapped around by the Chargers for the better part of 60 minutes and not retaliate in some form.

A whole lot from now on will depend on whether the Browns rebound down in Tampa Sunday or replicate their showing against the Chargers. If they reprise their last game, there is no way Jackson survives the gauntlet that lies immediately ahead.

The only way he and his short leash escape impending unemployment and last the entire season is to negotiate an upcoming treacherous minefield of games in the next six weeks and emerge with at least two or three victories.

Anything less against the likes of the high-scoring Bucs, Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals, all high-scoring teams, will not be enough to keep Dorsey from making a change.

Right now, the defense is starting to level off. It is not playing with the same intensity and purpose. The offense is still searching for an identity. And the special teams remain the most consistent part of the team – awful. It is entirely possible the fans have seen the best this team has to offer.

The question now is how close Dorsey is to removing that leash from around his coach’s neck and finally making a move that, in reality, should have been made at the end of last season. The odds Jackson survives the entire season in charge are clearly not in his favor as the schedule toughens.

And when –not if because I can’t see the GM and Haslam subjecting the fans to even more misery by keeping him – Dorsey makes his move, it will be interesting to see how he handles it.

Does he elevate one of his coordinators (guessing offensive boss Todd Haley) to the top spot and slap an interim tag on him? Or make him the permanent boss. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had someone else in mind (with another team now) for the long term.

Jackson has been the face of awful football for the better part of the last three seasons and brought embarrassment to the franchise, as well as the city of Cleveland. That sad era is teetering on the verge of becoming one that is best forgotten forever.
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Jackson’s judgment can be called into question on more than a few occasions. One in particular leaped out entering the final quarter of the Chargers game.

Why in the world did he keep sending Baker Mayfield out for more punishment until the end of the game? The rookie quarterback twisted an ankle midway through the first quarter after slipping on an orange down marker after scrambling for several yards.

The Chargers had a 35-6 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The game was lost. There was absolutely no reason for Mayfield, bum ankle and all, to be in there. Weren’t five sacks and numerous other punishing hits enough to warrant being a spectator while Drew Stanton handled the fourth quarter?

What in the world was he trying to prove? When is enough enough? It was obvious the kid was overmatched and overwhelmed. And yet, Jackson kept trotting him out (with a slight limp) for more punishment.

Considering the way the Browns’ offensive line protected Mayfield, it apparently never occurred to the coach that he was placing the club’s top pick, the future face of the franchise, in harm’s way unnecessarily.
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Dorsey is scrambling to plug unexpected holes on the wide receivers’ front. With Rashard Higgins and Derrick Willies out for at least another week or two and Antonio Callaway blowing opportunity after opportunity, the GM has called up Da’Mari Scott up from the practice squad and signed free agent Breshad Perriman, who failed miserably with Baltimore.

Right now, Mayfield’s outside targets include three rookies (Callaway, Damion Ratley and Scott), the speedy and highly unpredictable Perriman, who has never taken a snap with Cleveland, and Pro Bowler Jarvis Landry, who has dropped five passes this season.

Ratley, called on in an emergency when Rod Streater broke a bone in his neck in the first quarter on punt coverage Sunday. acquitted himself well with six receptions after dropping a touchdown pass in the end zone against the Chargers.

Landry, who has averaged 100 receptions a season in four NFL seasons, had 20 catches for 278 yards in his first three games this season, but has tailed off considerably with only 11 grabs for 114 yards in the last three. A statistic that foretells problems ahead.
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Scraps . . . When Tyrod Taylor was at quarterback, the Browns turnover ratio was +9. Since Mayfield took over midway through the third game, that ratio is -2. A coincidence? Probably, but make of it what you will. . . . Mayfield has thrown five interceptions and been sacked 13 times. But he has thrown for 1,066 yards and four touchdowns. . . . The offensive line has given up 26 sacks already this season. At this pace, it will surrender 69 sacks, shattering the old mark of 66 set season before last. That’s what happens when you have a raw rookie at one tackle and mediocrity at the other. . . . In addition to adding Scott to the main roster, the Browns also waived linebacker James Burgess injured and brought linebacker Xavier Woodson-Luster up from the practice squad.  . . . C Christian Kirksey moves over from weakside linebacker to middle linebacker while Joe Schobert rests his ouchy hamstring for the next few weeks. Rookie Genard Avery, who has played well enough to warrant more reps, takes over for Kirksey on that side (the right side) of the formation.

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