Another Browns National TV Debacle

The Cleveland Browns were on national TV last night, taking on the Washington Redskins on ESPN.  Why not check out my team?  After all, they’ve got a new coach (an annual occurrence), lots of new players (ditto), there’s a quarterback controversy (ditto ditto), and there’s hope for the future (the horrible, crippling curse of all deluded Cleveland sports fans).  Russell and I had our cell phones handy, ready to text our thoughts on the game and share some positive vibes.

Alas — as is always the case with Cleveland sports — it was not to be.  The Browns defense, at least, looked like an NFL-quality team.  Other than the fact that they were mysteriously penalized on every play, the D got decent pressure on the quarterback, forced some turnovers, and had a nice little goal-line stand.  There seems to be some depth there, too.  When the regular season arrives and the refs swallow their whistles a bit, the defense might even be good.

ESPN photoThe offense was another story.  It started with a botched snap count, a blocking breakdown, and an uncontested sack on the first play, followed by a penalty on the second.  At that point, how many Browns fans thought:  “Uh oh, same old Browns”?  And they were right.  Words like putrid, awful, and embarrassing don’t begin to describe the futility the Browns starters showed in the first half last night.  Brian Hoyer, the quarterback who is coming back from surgery last year, was 2-6 for 16 yards, blew an easy TD throw, and was off on almost every pass.  Johnny Manziel was 7-16 for 65 yards, but even those lame stats were padded by a second-half series against second-teamers.  The Browns eked out a miserable 3 points after a turnover.

Fortunately for me, I decided not to watch the second half when the scrubs took over.  I therefore didn’t have to watch Manziel distinguish himself by flipping off the Redskins bench on national TV.  So, Johnny Football looked like Johnny Asshole.  Browns teammates say Manziel takes a terrible riding from opposing players and fans.  No surprise there!  Manziel is just a kid — people tend to forget that — but his antics on draft day, and his insistence on acting like a big shot when he hasn’t proven himself at the pro level, are bound to attract that kind of attention.  If he can’t keep his cool in a meaningless preseason game, how is he going to stay level-headed during a crucial play with an important game on the line?  Manziel’s stupid middle-finger salute tells us something about him, and it isn’t good news.

There’s some value in a game like this.  It was such a colossal failure that it’s bound to crush any lingering optimism that the Browns have turned a corner and smash the rose-colored glasses of the glass-half-full fans.  The rest of us Browns Backers will approach the start of the regular season with a wary attitude, like a cornered animal with its foot caught in a trap, and grimly determined to bear the impending pain for as long as we possibly can.

Should He Stay Or Should He Go?

Under what circumstances — if any — should Pat Shurmur return to coach the Browns in 2013?

This question was not being asked three weeks ago.  In fact, if you had posed that question three weeks ago in a Cleveland-area bar, you would have been laughed out of the joint and perhaps punched in the face, too, on general principles.  Browns fans, myself included, were ready to see Perplexed Pat hit the road and have the team start over  with a new regime picked by the new owner.

But the last three weeks have produced three wins, including last weekend’s trouncing of the hapless Chiefs.  Now the Browns stand at 5-8, and actually have a very, very small chance of making the playoffs.  Of course, the Browns would have to win out against three good teams, and a lot of dominoes would need to fall their way — but still!  A chance to make the playoffs!  It’s almost like there’s a professional football team on the shores of Lake Erie.

I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid.  The Browns have beaten three pretty crummy teams in their winning streak, and their offense sputters something awful.  And yet . . . the young players (of whom there are many) look like they could actually be legitimate players in the NFL.  The defense plays a rugged game and doesn’t seem to get down when they give up a big play.  The offense has some reasonably good playmakers, all of whom (with the exception of thirty-something rookie QB Brandon Weedon) just started shaving last week.  It’s hard not to think that this team will only get better with age, experience, and a few wins under their collective belts.

I’m not convinced Shurmur has what it takes to be a successful NFL coach . . . but I also think NFL owners should think long and hard before they dump the old regime and bring in a new playbook, new approaches, and the disruption that is the inevitable result of such a change.  I want to see how the Browns look against the Redskins, who are battling for a playoff spot.  I want to see whether these young players maintain their focus and whether they come out and play hard now that their games are starting to mean something.  I want to see if Shurmur continues the interesting playcalling we saw in the Chiefs game.

There’s still plenty of time before this decision needs to be made.  Watching the Browns has suddenly become interesting again.