Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Double Digit Failure

It’s that time of the year again, isn’t it? No, not the holiday season, though it’s that, too. It’s that time of year that the good folks and fans of the Cleveland Browns see every year, like potholes on the interstate.

Yes, I am talking about that time of the year when the Browns cement another double digit losing season.

That it was the Arizona Cardinals that administered the blow this season seems particularly cruel. The Cardinals, except for their one foray into the Super Bowl, have been perennially one of the worst franchises in the NFL. Now even they’re laughing at the Browns.

And while I don’t necessarily have a great desire to revisit one painful season after another as the Browns now careen toward their real favorite season—draft season—there are always those reminders of just why the Browns are who they are.
No matter how many times they do a reset on this franchise they just can’t get it right. Mike “The Big No Show” Holmgren is the latest architect and while he bitched and groused at the media a week ago not to report that it’s all just a bunch of “same old same old” with this team, he’s done absolutely nothing to provide any evidence to the contrary.

In his first full year at the helm, Holmgren decided that what the team and its fans needed most was to waste a season so he kept Eric Mangini as head coach despite the fact that Mangini and his approach to football and those who play it is at the extreme opposite of pretty much everything Holmgren stands for.

But Holmgren decided to assuage Mangini’s feelings rather than be a good steward for the people who pay his salary—the fans—and allowed Mangini to basically hang himself in the worst lame duck role ever invented.

The Big No Show essentially admitted that he wasted last season, but we already knew and wrote about it so why turn over that same shovel of dirt? Well, for the simple reason that it stands as a marker for why this franchise stumbles and bumbles its way into 10+ losses each and every season, that’s why.

To truly appreciate, though, the level of institutional failure just consider head coach Pat Shurmur’s coyness in his Tuesday press conference about the future of Colt McCoy as the Browns’ starter once he’s healthy.

For reasons that only Shurmur could discern, he refused to commit to McCoy as the team’s starting quarterback when healthy. It was an insidious, rookie mistake by Shurmur in a year of insidious, rookie mistakes by Shurmur.

All McCoy has done for him this year has gone out and run Shurmur’s crappy offense with no receivers, a porous right side of the line and no running attack and get his brains beat in for the trouble. James Harrison, the NFL’s biggest thug, rams his helmet through McCoy’s facemask and knocks him into some previous week. McCoy takes the lick, gets back into the game because the Browns’ medical staff is incompetent and then gets rewarded with a statement from his head coach that strongly suggests that perennial backup Seneca Wallace may very well have won the starting job.
And how did Wallace win that job? Well, he got the Browns into the end zone twice in one game which in Shurmur’s world is an achievement of great distinction apparently. Let’s give him the game ball.

Of course Wallace also abjectly failed nearly the entire second half of the game, including overtime, the Browns lost the game and Wallace ended up with a line that looked like every one McCoy has had this season (except all those games that Shurmur stupidly had McCoy throwing the ball 40 times). But yea, apparently to Shurmur, that’s the kind of progress this team has been looking for.

This is exactly why the Browns can’t progress as a franchise wrapped up in one neatly wrapped little holiday present. The team is run by boobs who are so oddly focused atn times on things that mean nothing while missing the far bigger picture that it’s a wonder they remember to tie their shoes in the morning. Maybe they wear slip-ons.

The saying goes that you are what your record says you are and while there may be times to quibble with that, this Browns’ season isn’t one of them. Frankly, none in the last 12 have been, either. Week in and week out they look like a 4-10 team because they’re run like a 4-10 team. The way in which they lost Sunday’s game at Arizona may have been a reminder of what could have been, as Holmgren views things. But it was also a near perfect display of why they are who their record says they are.

When a call needed to be made or a play needed to be executed, the Browns couldn’t quite make it, not just in overtime but from about halfway through the third quarter through the end of the game. There were flourishes of competence at times followed by too long stretches of futility and too few players willing to put an end to those flourishes to turn an inevitable loss into a win.

The Browns on the field played exactly like the front office, from Holmgren down to Shurmur, played.

Why is it, exactly, that the special teams folded just when it needed to stand up? I guess it’s the same reason they couldn’t snap the damn ball or catch it all season, either. The difference between good players and the mediocre ones that surround them has to do with the ability to consistently execute. The same holds for front office executives and head coaches.

In truth, virtually any player in the NFL is capable of doing something special on any given play. It’s why they’re in the NFL in the first place. But the reason Tom Brady makes so much money and Wallace so little, comparatively speaking, is the ability to consistently execute.

But none of this matters now because Holmgren sits and twiddles and Shurmur decides right now is the exact time not to commit, again, to a quarterback. Is it any wonder this franchise is a mess?

Frankly, I’m not sure why so many have seemed to have jumped off the McCoy bandwagon given how few competent people general manager Tom Heckert put on it to help McCoy get to his destination. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could do any better with what McCoy’s had to work with.

Maybe it’s just the idea that Wallace isn’t McCoy in the same way that McCoy wasn’t Jake Delhomme and Delhomme wasn’t Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson. The attention span and patience of Browns fans, particularly when it comes to quarterbacks, seems to run about 10 games before they’ve seen enough. And the best player is the one sitting on the bench, whoever that might be.

Sure, it’s all understandable except that it’s not. At some point the clowns that run this organization and the fans that worship it are going to have to give someone enough leeway to develop in some capacity. At some point fans are going to have to realize that the Browns are just a really awful team with really awful players at so many positions that there's little chance for anyone to develop as a quarterback because we run them off before giving them a real chance.

I’m not raging against Shurmur staying on as a coach anymore then I’m raging against Holmgren or Heckert sticking around. What I am raging against is the Browns machine they’ve inherited and have done little to alter. The machine is broken and needs a real overhaul and not the tinkering they seem to be engaging in.

Instead of actually doing something different, innovative and unique, they just keep making the same mistakes of all the other nincompoops who came before them and then complain that the media isn’t giving them a fair shake.

The Browns need Holmgren to act like a president, have the presence of a president and bring a calm, professional demeanor and approach as he goes about actually making meaningful change. And he needs to do it out front where people can see him working and not from the comfort of his Arizona home.

Holmgren in turn needs Shurmur to stop acting like a know-it-all who thinks he got into the job because he’s such a genius and start embracing the fact that he does have much to learn. Make him hire an offensive coordinator so that he stops acting like one. Make him commit to a actually developing a quarterback and designing a scheme around the players you have instead of the players you wish you had.
But maybe that’s too hard.

So sure, let’s change out the quarterback again because it carries the hint of making progress even if it ends up being the exact opposite of what actual progress looks like. Let’s keep pressing the reset button again and again because really that’s all it’s going to take to fix this mess. And while we’re at it, let’s get used to the painful drip, drip, drip of loss after loss because if there’s one thing we do know, the world doesn’t lack for the next set of goofs standing in line to take more of Randy Lerner’s wasted money.


Anonymous said...


Excellent column. I am dumbfounded by the drone to dump McCoy. And some of these individuals believe Wallace is in any way the answer?

Let's get an offensive line and see what this qb can do, before the present line gets him killed.

Last thing: Has anyone noticed any statement regarding the effect of the injury to Steinbach? I think it was nearly catastrophic.


Gary Benz said...

You're right about the injury to Steinbach. I've mentioned it now several times but it is a big reason for the offensive failure. The right side of the line is nearly worthless

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