Friday, October 13, 2006

On Paper

It's the bye week for Cleveland Browns fans, the yearly reminder of what it was like during the dark days when a morally and financially bankrupt Art Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore.

We always took great comfort in the fact that Modell's inept financial acumen ultimately forced him to sell the franchise. And we marvel at the fact that he has kept just the slightest piece of the franchise so that he doesn't have to pay off on an old contract to the Mickey McBride family. And he wonders why he isn't in the Hall of Fame.

But enough about Modell for now. Instead, as we enter the bye week, there is one thing for certain: Head Coach Romeo Crennel and his handpicked offensive coordinator, Maurice Carthon, are the walking definition of embattled. The frustration just oozes from every pore of Crennel's expanding girth. Sizing up the season thus far, Crennel told the assembled media "Last year when we got here, we didn't think we were very good and nobody did. We just tried to play hard and keep it close. This year, because of the off-season acquisitions, everybody felt we were going to be better. You can be better on paper, but ultimately you have to be better on Sunday. And we haven't been as good on Sunday."

And exactly why the Browns aren't better shouldn't be such a mystery to Crennel. Which is where Carthon comes in. In Tony Grossi's analysis in this week's Plain Dealer, he aptly noted that despite the sensitivity of the matter, the play caller must be changed: "Under Carthon's direction, the Browns scored the fewest points in the league last year. Today, they are ranked 31st in overall offensive yards. Add in a bunch of questionable play-calls and some puzzling lineup decisions. What in that body of work suggests the coordinator is doing a reasonably good job?"

In many ways, the Browns are struggling in the same ways as the Miami Dolphins. In 2005, the Dolphins appeared to be a team on the rise, finishing their first season under Nick Saban at 9-7 after going 4-12 the previous season. The Dolphins likewise made a splash in the off-season, seemingly stabilizing their quarterback situation by signing Daunte Culpepper. Yet, five weeks into this season they find themselves, surprise, at 1-4. And it's not a good 1-4, either, with losses to three struggling teams: Houston, Buffalo and Pittsburgh.

When we compared the overall stats of both the Browns and the Dolphins, we were mildly surprised at how identical the teams really are. The Browns have scored 20more points, but have given up 19 more than the Dolphins. Miami holds only slight edges in rushing and passing yardage, but Cleveland holds sizable edges in third down conversions and in limiting opponents third-down conversions. The biggest difference is in turnovers. Cleveland is a league worst -9 and Miami is at level par, which begs the question of whether this statistic is overrated (it's not).

The point, we think, is that while Cleveland fans see nothing but grey in every cloud, it is nice to know sometimes you aren't alone. In fact, one could credibly argue that Miami is in worse shape since their turnover ratio figures to get worse and Cleveland's figures to get better, if only slightly. But in the end, none of it will matter. Both teams will be lucky to win 5 games and by whatever measure, whether on paper or stone tablet, they both will have taken a step backward this season despite decent off-seasons. On the other hand, at least neither club is Oakland.

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