The Browns Suck . . . Again

Here are some words that describe the Cleveland Browns franchise:  Suck.  Blow.  Dismal.  Putrid.  Woeful.  Hopeless.  Unrelentingly, inevitably awful.  Hey, does anyone have a thesaurus handy?

We are at the end of the NFL season.  The Browns are long since out of the running, while the other teams in their division — the mighty Steelers, the hated Ravens, even the usually laughable Bengals — are fighting for playoff spots and home field advantage.  It’s as predictable as the crowds of shoppers returning unwanted Christmas presents they received from Aunt Mildred.

Every year, there is supposed to be a new savior for this cursed franchise.  Once it was Tim Couch, or Butch Davis, or Phil Savage, or Braylon Edwards, or Romeo Crennel, or Eric Mangini.  Lately it is supposed to be Mike Holmgren, Pat Shurmur, Colt McCoy, or Peyton Hillis.  Of course, the Browns are never saved — they might bob up to a level of mediocrity every third season or so, but then they sink back down to their accustomed record of disaster and futility.  This year they are 4-11 and are ready to get waxed, again, by the Steelers in their last game.

The worldwide Browns Backers are among the most faithful fans in the world, but they also have a ridiculous capacity for self-delusion.  Right now they’re talking about maximizing the Browns’ draft position, like it is some great positive.  It isn’t.  The Browns have frittered away countless high draft choices before, and they’ll do it again.

Let’s not kid ourselves.  I repeat:  Suck.  Blow.

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A Make-Or-Break Game For The Browns

Today’s home game against the resurgent Seattle Seahawks is a make-or-break game for the Browns.  Although the season is only five games old, the Browns are in a sickeningly familiar position — in last place in their division, losing contact with the leading teams, struggling to win games at home, and playing uninspired and uninspiring football.

The Browns are a team that needs to find itself.  Offensively, they seem to have no identity and no soul.  Are they a running team, or a West Coast offense passing team?  Is Peyton Hillis hurt, or in the coach’s doghouse for some reason?  Quarterback Colt McCoy doesn’t seem to be picking up the new offense, and the Browns’ wide receivers have been close to invisible.  The Browns clearly don’t have a big-play threat, so why not get back to using Hillis as the every-down back and focusing on running the ball with a few passes mixed in?  They’ve used that scheme before with some success, and the pounding seems to wear down defenses until Hillis breaks a big run.

Defensively, the Browns have been pretty good — but any defense gets gassed, and then gashed, if they are on the field virtually every down.  If the Browns could score on offense, the defense could take a few more chances and, perhaps, become a bit more of a big-play unit.  It’s hard to do that, however, when it looks like any score you give up will be insurmountable for your inept offense.

Already the Browns are two full games behind the Ravens, and a game and a half behind both the Steelers and the Bengals.  Another loss today, and the Browns may as well hang it up for the season — and it’s not even the end of October.

Edited to Add:  Well, it was brutal to watch, but the Browns got it done, 6-3.  Credit the defense and Phil Dawson’s long-distance accuracy for the win and keeping the Browns (slightly) in contention.

It’s Never Easy

The Browns won an ugly game today.  As victories go, it was about as repulsive as you can get — but it was a win nevertheless.

After three games, the Browns are 2-1, and will be, at worst, tied for first in their division.  They won today because their defense played a good game against a pretty mediocre team and their offense — which was wretched for most of the game — cobbled together a good last-second drive for a touchdown.  The drive gave the Browns a 17-16 lead, and the defense forced a Miami turnover to seal the win.

We shouldn’t kid ourselves about this Browns team.  The offense clearly is searching for itself, and the defense hasn’t faced any offensive juggernauts.  Still, Colt McCoy’s performance on the two-minute drill was encouraging and may help to kick start this offense into a good rhythm.  And a more productive offense would be a help for the defense, too.  The Browns appear to have some defensive playmakers, and letting them take a gamble now and then might make them into a more effective unit.

I’ll take the win, of course — but with the Browns it’s never easy.

The Browns Bounce Back

Today the Cleveland Browns won a game they absolutely had to win.  By the end of the season this game may mean nothing — but at least a win in a must-win game is a welcome change from prior seasons.

The Browns beat the Indianapolis Colts, 27-19.  It’s not a great achievement, because the Colts without Peyton Manning are like a mighty aircraft carrier without a captain.  Nevertheless, any win on the road in the NFL is a win to be celebrated.  For the Browns in particular, the game is worth relishing because the Browns actually managed to hold onto, and then expand, a fourth-quarter lead and put the game away.  Peyton Hillis’ hard-running 24-yard touchdown gallop gave the Browns a two-score lead, and the defense’s forcing a fumble from Kerry Collins on the next series was the back-breaker.

The Browns have a long way to go, but winning to keep pace with the other teams in the AFC North was crucial.  Today’s game also showed some promising signs.  For the first time since Kamerion Wimbley’s rookie season, the Browns may have an defensive line that can consistently pressure the opposing quarterback without blitzing.  I particularly like the hustling, never-say-quit play of rookie lineman Jabaal Sheard.  Colt McCoy had a reasonably good day throwing the ball, which is essential if you are going to run the West Coast offense.  And the Browns continued to stick with the rushing game, wearing the Colts down until Hillis sprang his clutch run.

This win is a baby step, but it is a baby step in the right direction after last week’s embarrassing performance against the Bengals.

It’s Time For The Browns To Win Their Season Opener

Since the Browns came back into the NFL in 1999, their record in the first game of the season has been stunningly awful.

In 12 years, the Browns have won their season opener precisely once — beating Baltimore 20-3 in 2004.  In the other years, they’ve lost in every conceivable way.  They’ve lost to good teams and bad teams.  They’ve gotten creamed and they’ve lost 9-6 defensive battles.  They even lost when Dwayne Rudd was penalized for removing his helmet on the last play of the game.  With astonishing, soul-deadening consistency, the old Browns and new Browns have produced the same result.  The season starts with a dispiriting 0-1 record, the team is in a hole, and they never seem to be able to fully claw their way out of it.  It’s no wonder the team has made the playoffs only once in those 12 years.

This year, the Browns need to find a way to somehow win their first game, against the Cincinnati Bengals.  Beating the Bengals is not an impossible dream.  In fact, if the Browns really are heading in the right direction, the game against the Bengals is a game that they should — really, they must — win.

With Mike Holmgren fully  at the helm of the franchise, a new head coach in Pat Shurmur and a new coaching staff, new offensive and defensive schemes, exciting players like Peyton Hillis, Colt McCoy, and Josh Cribbs, and a roster stocked with younger players, it is time for the Browns to start slaying the ghosts and demons that have tormented this star-crossed franchise since its return to the league.  It can be done.  For years, the Browns could not win at Three Rivers Stadium — until suddenly, under Marty Schottenheimer and Bernie Kosar, they could.  On Sunday, it is time for this Browns team, too, to start turning things around.

Riding The Browns Yo-Yo

On Saturday the Cleveland Browns beat the Green Bay Packers in the teams’ first preseason game.  To hear some fans afterward, you would have thought that the Browns had won a crucial game that qualified them for the playoffs.

This is a problem.  Browns Backers have been wandering in the wilderness for so long, and have seen so many putrid performances, that they seize upon any decent outing and promptly begin to build sandcastles in the air.  Colt McCoy looks sharp for a few series, and suddenly he is the reincarnation of Otto Graham.  Josh Cribbs makes a good catch, and  he becomes the answer to the team’s void at receiver.  A few stops by the defense, and it is the Steel Curtain reborn.  Watch Bruce Drennan’s call-in show, All Bets Are Off, on the Sports Time Ohio channel after a Browns game if you think I’m exaggerating.  And the problem, of course, is that the Browns’ yo-yo always seems to go way down, and stay way down, after every hopeful upward movement.

So, I’m going to remember that the Green Bay game was just a meaningless exhibition.  I’m going to bear in mind that this team finished far out of the running last year and plays in a division that includes two perennial playoff contenders in the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens.  And I’m going to remind myself that the Browns have gotten my hopes up before, ripped my guts out, and stomped them in the dust.  I’m not ready to make the necessary deep emotional commitment quite yet.

That said, you have to admit that Colt McCoy did look pretty good Saturday night.

 

Questions Of Fit And Fitness

The Browns have hired a new head coach, the 13th full-time head coach in the team’s history.  His name is Pat Shurmur.  Shurmur was the offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams for the last two seasons, and before that he was the tight ends, offensive line, and quarterbacks coach with the Philadelphia Eagles.  So, the Browns have gone with someone whose coaching background is exclusively on the offensive side of the ball.

No one who watched the Browns struggle offensively at the end of the season will question the need to focus on scoring points.  That said, Shurmur’s resume is somewhat thin.  Philadelphia was one of the best teams in the NFL when he was an assistant there, but it is hard to say how much of the Eagles’ offensive success was attributable to Shurmur as opposed to the head coach, the offensive coordinator, and the Eagles’ talented players.  In evaluating Shurmur’s record, therefore, the focus should be on St. Louis, where Shurmur was the offensive coordinator for only two years.  This past year, the Rams finished 7-9 and were not exactly an offensive juggernaut.  The team ranked 21st in the NFL in passing yards and 25th in the league in rushing yards, and failed to score at least 20 points nine times.  The main point on Shurmur’s resume may be that he coached a new quarterback, Sam Bradford, who had a good year for a rookie.

This is one of those situations where the fans simply have to trust the evaluation and judgment of team management on the fitness of the new head coach.  There is nothing in Shurmur’s resume to indicate that he is an offensive wizard who can turn the Browns into a point-producing machine, but he may well have the qualities that are needed to make him a good NFL head coach.  Shurmur was the pick of Mike Holmgren, who knows Shurmur and who was himself a successful head coach.  We can reasonably expect that Holmgren considered whether Shurmur has the attributes that are crucial to head coaching success — such as the willingness to work incredibly hard, the ability to recruit and shape a team of assistant coaches who are themselves excellent coaches, the skill to spot talent that is available through free agency and the draft and to identify players who can positively fill gaps in the current team roster, the organizational savvy to structure a training camp that gets the team ready for the season, and the football knowledge to spot and then exploit weaknesses in opponents.  The reality is that you cannot tell whether a coach will succeed in a particular time and place until they actually get that opportunity.  No one who watched Bill Belichick coach the Browns in the early ’90s would have guessed that Belichick would later turn the New England Patriots into a mini-dynasty.

So, the question of Shurmur’s fitness must await the test of actual games.  The question of his “fit” with the Browns’ players also will remain unanswered until then.  The Browns’ best offensive players this year were a big running back, Peyton Hillis, and tight end Ben Watson.  Rookie quarterback Colt McCoy showed some promise but stumbled at the end of the season, the offensive line was average, and the receiving corps aside from Watson was not NFL-caliber.  Does Shurmur’s offensive scheme “fit” with Hillis and Watson, and if not does he have the flexibility to modify his scheme to accommodate their considerable talents?  Or, will the Browns need to rebuild, again? The fact that Shurmur successfully coached a big back in the Rams’ Steven Jackson and that the Rams made significant use of a platoon of tight ends gives some cause for hope.

Browns fans can only pray that Shurmur has the attributes needed to turn around the sagging Browns franchise.  The Cleveland Browns have been wandering aimlessly in the wilderness since their return to the NFL.  During that period the team has often been an embarrassment to devoted Browns Backers.  We can only hope that Holmgren and his hand-picked coach can lead the team to the promised land of the NFL playoffs and back to the record of consistent excellence that characterized the Cleveland Browns for decades.