Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Shutting Up the Statistics

There’s a Peanuts cartoon by Charles Schulz in which Charlie Brown’s beleaguered baseball team is getting hammered once again. Linus, I believe, is rattling off the statistics on just how bad it all is and Charlie Brown yells “tell your statistics to shut up.”

It’s easy to appreciate Charlie Browns’ angst. It’s sometimes hard facing the absolute truth of what the black and white numbers reveal. Ignoring them may have been a plot point for Peanuts, but ignoring them when it comes to the Cleveland Browns is no more a strategy than hoping that they’ll change. Reality may bite and it may bite hard, but you ignore the venom at your own risk.

A statistic caught my eye today. It’s a statistic that more than any other I’ve seen chronicling the mess in Berea, places the awfulness of it all in just the right light. The Plain Dealer reported that in the Browns’ last two games, the differential in yards between what the defense has given up and what the offense has gained is a staggering 667 yards (1003 yards given up, 336 gained). Even more alarming, it is the worst two-game differential in the entire history of the franchise, which covers over 900 games dating back to 1946. For further perspective, consider that the second worst occurred during the first two games of the 1999 expansion year.

This is a statistic you can’t easily shut up. It serves as about the only counter-argument to the nonsense of those counseling patience with the new regime.

The popular theory making the rounds of the Mangini Apologist Movement is that things will inevitably get worse before they get better. By using this as the backdrop, the Apologists dismiss the mounting evidence on how bad things really are with this franchise as saying, “well, it’s to be expected.”

Let me take a novel approach: why? Where is it written that things must get worse in order to get better? Why can’t things simply improve from where they stood initially?

It’s fascinating how the narrative on this Browns’ season has changed from one of steady progress to one where it’s all about tearing it down in order to build it back up. Yet that’s become not just the official narrative of the fledgling Apologist movement but also the official narrative of an increasingly disingenuous head coach.

What is being lost in this rush to change the storyline to one that better fits what more reasoned observers see as an abject disaster is the fact that the Browns weren’t an aging team on the tail end of a good run that had reached an inevitable rebuilding point in their cycle. When Eric Mangini and his hand picked sock puppet George Kokinis took over, it was a young team with a smattering of talent. It had only upside, or so most people thought.

What’s turned out instead is that it had a much further downside, a historically, unprecedented, hide the women and children, put on the Haz Met suit, lock the doors, move out of town, shut your eyes, turn off the TV, liquidate the assets, run don’t walk, gut wrenching, vomit inducing, downside.

I’ll concede that the franchise wasn’t in the greatest shape when Mangini and Kokinis buffaloed owner Randy Lerner, but it wasn’t as bad as it is now. In fact, the franchise probably wasn’t even in as bad of shape for Mangini and Kokinis as it was for former general manager Phil Savage and former head coach Romeo Crennel.

The Browns’ receiving corps this year may be awful, but remember that when Mangini and Kokinis took over it also included Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards. Whatever you think about either of those two players, each was statistically better than anyone on the roster at the end of 2004. There was no Joe Thomas or Eric Steinbach on that 2004 squad, only Ryan Tucker and Ross Verba. There was no Shaun Rogers on that 2004 team. They were making due with the likes of Gerard Warren, Mike Myers and Ebenezer Ekuban. The defensive backfield in 2004 was better than what Mangini and Kokinis inherited, but Phil Dawson is still the place kicker and the 2004 didn’t have anyone close to Josh Cribbs on special teams.

Whatever problems that 2004 team had, it never once sunk to the depths of what’s now being experienced under Mangini. Savage and Crennel didn’t improve the talent level enough to make the Browns a materially better team but it would be hard to make the case that they made the franchise worse. All they really did was stunt its progress, an unpardonable sin given the promises they sold.

But Mangini and Kokinis have made things far worse. It’s not opinion, it’s fact. By every statistical measure one wants to use, this franchise is worse now than when those two took over and there is absolutely nothing to suggest that it will get any better, certainly not this year and probably not next except perhaps just through the law of averages.

But the Mangini Apologist Movement nonetheless keeps counseling patience in the midst of an absolute shit-storm of ineptitude as if things will magically get better if we just accept the awfulness and wait it all out without question or concern. I appreciate someone taking the alternate view as much as anyone and I don’t think less of them for doing so. But the whole basis for their view is that Mangini has somehow inherited remarkable circumstances and thus more slack must be cut.

Well, let’s go back to the statistics, shall we? The roster Mangini inherited was bad, but it wasn’t historically bad. He then turned over nearly half of it between his trades, his draft picks and his refugees from New York. If these are remarkable circumstances, despite how abundantly unremarkable they actually are, just know then that they are self-inflicted. A killer doesn’t get sympathy for murdering his parents just because he’s now an orphan and Mangini doesn’t get sympathy because he blew up the team and now is left with nothing but shrapnel and spare parts.

If Lerner can ever get engaged with his $1 billion investment long enough to realize that his franchise is on the precipice of sinking into complete irrelevance with a formally proud and loyal following, he might come to realize that this has nothing to do with having a hair trigger reaction to a little bad news.

This is all about correcting a major mistake that almost everyone saw coming except him. In 2007, the Miami Dolphins hired Cam Cameron, the offensive coordinator with San Diego, to lead their team. Under Cameron, the Dolphins eschewed picking Brady Quinn in the first round when they truly needed a quarterback and instead picked Ted Ginn, Jr. It was a surprise pick that turned out to be a major mistake not just because of the personnel involved because of the thought process. It ultimately revealed Cameron as someone in over his head.

Under Cameron, the Dolphins were a confused and ill-run franchise and finished the season at 1-15. As that most bitter of seasons was winding down, owner Wayne Huzienga had seen enough to know that he needed a real football professional to run the operation. He hired Bill Parcells.

Parcells didn’t move on Cameron right away, he didn’t need to. The year was almost over. But he did move on him quickly enough and Cameron’s head coaching career ended, mercifully, after one year.

I point all this out as evidence that things don’t have to get worse before they can better. Things can actually get better pretty quickly. The Dolphins aren’t a great team two years later but on the other hand they did go 11-5 one year after going 1-15. All it takes is competent football minds, not head coaches with insecurity issues and wannabe executives so anxious to advance that they’ll take a job on whatever bizarre conditions are imposed.

There’s probably no final straw in any of this only a million little straws breaking the will of the fans being charged to support this dying franchise. And while debating the quarterback situation is tiresome for everyone involved, just consider that irrespective of your feelings on either Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson, you have to concede that both are measurably worse as players under this regime. It may be the offensive philosophy. It may be the lousy coaching. It may be a hundred other things. But again, statistically this is just a fact.

The Mangini Apologist Movement deserves the right to defend its patron saint just as much as the rest of us deserve our right to dream of a day when this franchise actually gets on the right track; a day when no one tries to advance the faulty paradigm that you must get worse to get better; a day when a truly competent football professional is running this franchise; a day when the right moves are actually made so that showing some patience actually makes sense. Let them defend Mangini all they want, but in doing so the statistics don’t just have to shut up, they have to wither up and die.


Anonymous said...

Seriously I'm sick of Browns fans moaning about this year. What did you expect. The teams the Browns have played are a combined 32-14 through this week. The only team they had any relistic chance against they beat. They have not been very competitive, but so what. They weren't going to beat those top tier teams anyway. Not with the talent that is left. You should not have been expecting the playoffs and if you were you don't know anything about what it takes to win in the NFL. Keep in mind that they have 11 draft picks next year. That's unheard of in this day and age and can only help the team get better. Stop crying and wait!!! It could be alot worse...You could be a fan of the Redskins or the Raiders and have absolutely nothing to look forward to.

Gary Benz said...

No one expected the playoffs. Most expected improvement. The team has gone backward; that's the key. It's not even a question of winning but it is a question of being competitive, which comes with progress. Both the Raiders and Redskins have more wins than Cleveland, how is that worse?

Anonymous said...

Use your head:

The Browns have the toughest first half schedule in the league.

Did anyone get upset when the Cavs tanked the team the year before Lebron graduated from high school?

Do you really think that the team would have won one of the six losses with Braylon and Kellen on the team?

Let's go 1-15 and get the first pick of the draft and in each of seven rounds, plus four more.
Remember the Cowboys won a Super Bowl with the draft picks they got from Minnesota for Herschel Walker.

Gary Benz said...

The record is irrelevant. It's the progress that Mangini should be judged by and on that scale he's failing beyond belief; well beyond Lerner's belief anyway. Mangini may be in the midst of a demolition project, but why does everyone just assume he's the right guy for that job? Just because he says things like "core values" "discipline." It's easy things to say, tough to execute and that's where he's failing. This team isn't listening to him any more than the Jets players listened to him. He was fired there because he lost the locker room. He never got it here.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see that there are other people that feel the same way I do. All the blogs and the columnists are way to negative.

Somtimes you have to take a step back to get two steps ahead. Everyone wanted a change last year. It came, now let's give it some time. There is no doubt they have gotten worse from a talent standpoint after losing the players they lost, but those moves were made to make the team better in the long run. Management knew (at least I hope they did) that those changes were going to make it harder to win this season, but they were made to change a team that has done very little since it returned to Cleveland. Something drastic had to be done to change this team and it was done. More may be needed, but that can't happen right now. If no changes were made to the team after last year I think the team would still be bad and might not even have one win at this point of the season.

By the way take a look at the schedules that the Redskins and Raiders have played thus far and then tell me they are better teams with one more win than the Browns. Then look at the trouble with those organizations and tell me that they are better than the Browns. Then look at the draft picks they have next year and tell me they are better than the Browns.

The futures bright...embrace it. Find little things this year that give your hope. Life is to short to focus on the negative my friend.