If the Cleveland Browns’ season was being scripted by the folks at Schoolhouse Rock, the musical question they’d ask is: Dysfunction Junction what’s your function? At this point, other than the ubiquitous “to win games” I doubt even general manager Phil Savage could actually answer that question. With turmoil once again the operating theme orchestrated by a general manager clearly in over his head, the Browns once again find themselves in the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
Apparently not satisfied mishandling one marquee player in tight end Kellen Winslow, Savage decided to try his particular brand of handiwork on another marquee player, Brady Quinn. Meanwhile, the locker room and the coaching staff are in disarray and all head coach Romeo Crennel can do is fiddle.
In the end, the Browns (meaning Savage but not Crennel) reached the right decision regarding now-deposed quarterback Derek Anderson and newly-anointed starter Quinn. But as usual, they can’t even figure out how to make a right decision correctly. Crennel appeared as scheduled for his Monday press conference, proceeded to say (honestly, I believe) that he didn’t foresee any immediate changes and then found himself undercut several hours later by Savage who was going in a different direction. It’s hardly the first time Savage and Crennel haven’t been on the same page even as the principals deny it.
If reports are accurate, the decision to start Quinn on Thursday against Denver stems in part from fan reaction to Anderson’s bumbling of the most crucial moments of last Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens. Apparently Savage didn’t want to see his prized project Anderson booed off a national stage come Thursday by the fans who just a few months ago were actually chanting “Super Bowl” at the team’s first pre-season practice.
If Savage is going to run this team like a minor league baseball club and let the fans actually pick the lineup, then maybe he’ll extend that to the entire staff and give fans a say in whether Crennel survives the Denver game. Want to guess how that would turn out?
One can only imagine how pained Savage must have been in bowing to public pressure this time. His disdain for the fans is evident every time he speaks publicly, which, not coincidentally, is coming less and less frequently as the team spirals further out of control. Indeed, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that owner Randy Lerner may have even pushed this decision on Savage, if only to avoid the embarrassment of empty seats occasionally broken up by angry fans on Thursday night. It would be easier to attribute this decision to Lerner except that he’s essentially disappeared somewhere between Cleveland and England. But as we now know with this team, anything’s possible, and I don’t mean that in a good way.
The decision to bench Anderson seems to have come only as a surprise to the players inside of Berea and disgruntled ex-players like Trent Dilfer. Center Hank Fraley said Monday that he thought that Anderson was joking when he texted Fraley earlier in the day to tell him the news. Anderson may be a lot of things, but a prankster he’s not. Meanwhile, Dilfer was telling anyone Monday with a microphone and a reporter’s notebook that this was a bad decision poorly executed. Dilfer had a mouthful more to say in an interview on WKNR Monday evening and saw no reason to filter. He blasted the team, and Savage, for the usual dysfunction that keeps this team from progressing and then tossed more than a few additional blasts toward receiver Braylon Edwards. Ok, Dilfer wasn’t wrong about everything.
But Anderson did deserve this fate, Dilfer’s assessment notwithstanding. Anderson has the worst quarterback rating in the league among quarterbacks who have thrown at least 200 passes. Depending on how far back you want to go last season, he’s either the worst or among the worst quarterbacks based on a whole host of measures.
Anderson wasn’t necessarily given a lot of support by Edwards, an all-world receiver just ask him. Dilfer, while dumping on Edwards, pointed out that there are a lot more than just 13 passes that Edwards’ has dropped this season. Dilfer claims that he and some others went back and looked at every Cleveland game this season and put that number of catchable passes that Edwards failed to haul in at around 30. Maybe Dilfer isn’t a Michigan fan, either.
But the bigger problem for Anderson wasn’t the fact that Edwards can’t catch, it’s that Anderson can’t overcome it. (For that matter, neither can Edwards, but we’ll stay on point here). Edwards’ crucial drop of a perfectly thrown pass on Sunday didn’t have to be the momentum killer that it became. That’s on Anderson for letting it impact him in that way.
Anderson had four good opportunities to put this team into a position to win on Sunday after the Edwards pass and couldn’t get it done. He went three-and-out on the first series. On 3rd and 8 in that series Anderson threw underneath to Winslow and the Browns’ were forced to punt. On the next series, Anderson faced and identical 3rd and 8 and again threw underneath, this time to Steve Saunders. The pass never got there and the Browns were again forced to punt. The next series featured the screen pass to Ravens’ linebacker Terrell Suggs that Suggs took back for a touchdown. The final series featured a frantic scramble followed by three straight completions.
As much as anything else, it was these four series that put Anderson on the bench. The other thing that put Anderson on the bench, and this is really the essence of the problem, is that his confidence peaks and valleys far too often to be an effective leader. When it’s high, Anderson looks as good as any quarterback in the league. When it’s low, he might as well be Brad Johnson or any number of other faceless backups in the league. Indeed, the fact that Savage didn’t want to expose Anderson to a hostile home crowd tells you that even Savage questions Anderson’s makeup.
Many have argued that starting Quinn on a short week doesn’t give him enough time to prepare. To that I ask: how could anyone possibly tell? Crennel has a number of shortcomings as a head coach, but leading that list is his inability to get a team prepared, so assuming that having 10 days to prepare Quinn will somehow be fruitful is an assumption best no made. Besides, putting Quinn under this kind of pressure is a decent test of his mettle.
The question that remains to be answered now is how permanent the benching will be. Crennel probably would prefer to start Anderson if only because Crennel himself is in full survival mode at this point and probably still thinks Anderson gives the team the best chance to win. But it’s clear by now that Crennel isn’t even getting to choose his own starting lineup, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. How long Quinn remains as starter depends really on whether Savage believes it’s Quinn’s time or he’s just setting Quinn up to fail in order to eventually bring back Anderson.
With Savage, anything is possible. Again, I don’t mean that in a good way.