Monday, November 26, 2012

The Things We Know--Week 11

When you stop and ponder just for a moment the Cleveland Browns’ victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday you can’t help but ask yourself what was the most improbable thing about that 20-14 victory?

Was it simply that the Browns actually beat the Steelers after bowing down to them in such subservient fashion for the last 14 years that the victory merely pushed their winning percentage against the Steelers over that span to a virtual tie with Brent Lillibridge’s lifetime batting average? (.217 vs. .213)

Was it that the Steelers committed 8 turnovers (could have been 11), the first time any team has done that in the last 11 years?   Or was it that despite the turnovers the Browns still scored just 20 points and only won by 6?

It’s a classic half-glass full kind of victory, as George W. Bush might say.  The victory surely was pleasing in the overall sense because it was against the hated Steelers, but had it been against, say, the bumbling Oakland Raiders, the team they play next week, would people still be walking around Monday morning with a little extra bounce in their step?

Probably.  The truth of the matter is that as surely as some wins can be minimized and some losses maximized, there’s nothing that will ever diminish a Browns victory over the Steelers.  Not a creaky, barely competent third string quarterback that the Steelers trotted out on Sunday in Charlie Batch, a player that I’m sure most fans couldn’t believe was still in the league, assuming he had just faded away after being cut by the Detroit Lions 11 years ago in favor of Joey Harrington.  Not an injured Troy Polamalu out nursing either some sort of lower extremity issue or fussy hair extensions.  Not the fact that the Steelers were so bereft of offensive linemen that they inquired earlier this week about acquiring Buster Skrine and moving him over to play right tackle (ok, that’s not exactly true because even the Steelers know that Skrine is untouchable.)  And certainly not the fact that the Steelers are so thin at receiver that they turned to former Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress literally pulled him from a Manhattan Toys R Us “doorbusters” line on Black Friday, ill-fitted him for a uniform and then gave him the starting job.

The real reason you can’t diminish a Browns victory over the Steelers stems from the simple fact that notwithstanding every good reason to explain why the Steelers looked like the Browns circa “The Chris Palmer Years” (or “The Romeo Crennel Years” or even “The Eric Mangini Years”), the NFL is still a no excuse league.  Shit happens and you have to roll with it.  No team, no team’s fans, knows that better than the Browns.

If the Steelers want sympathy for fielding a team that apparently is so dependent on a healthy Ben Roethlisberger that the players literally shut down when he doesn’t play, they won’t get it in Cleveland.  They won’t get it in Baltimore or Cincinnati either.  Hell, they won’t get it in any self-respecting NFL town, including Pittsburgh.  If the best the Steelers could do was Charlie Batch at quarterback then I say it’s their own fault.  Seneca Wallace has been a free agent for months.

Besides, I don’t recall any teams or the fans of said teams throwing any sympathy Cleveland’s way as the Browns embarrassed themselves in one loss or another for years and the Browns are the ones usually compounding bad drafts with serious injuries in their usual quest for 4 or 5 wins a year.  So the fact that the Browns scored a victory against a team clearly being held together by off-brand adhesive tape shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially when it’s only the third win this season.

But if you want to take the victory, file it away, and then take a sobering look at the team that got it you won’t find a whole lot to really enjoy.  It’s pretty hard, for example, to end up with merely 20 points when the team you were facing gave you 8 additional possessions, often in pretty good field position.  That the Browns pulled off the trick tells you that even against a banged up Steelers defense and plenty of opportunities, scoring points is as hard as finding a critic that loved Lindsay Lohan’s turn as Elizabeth Taylor.

Quarterback Brandon Weeden continues what was always going to be an uneven rookie year.  Neither plainly bad nor objectively good, Weeden kept the team moving Sunday mostly in neutral save for a nice touchdown pass in the second quarter to tight end Jordan Cameron.  The same could be said for Trent Richardson as well as he ran the ball 29 times and still ended up with less than 100 yards rushing overall.  Indeed, his stats were the marker for why the offense still had to struggle to win the game against a team practically demanding that the Browns finally give them the spanking they deserve.

There weren’t any particularly glaring errors by head coach Pat Shurmur and credit should be given to defensive coordinator Dick Jauron for not letting the defense fall into the trap of letting a never-was-been like Batch have one final career highlight.

But as games go, it wasn’t a thing of beauty.  Then again either was Ohio State’s game against Michigan on Saturday and yet even with nothing particularly substantive riding on the outcome the Buckeyes victory was still pretty damn satisfying.  Sometimes it’s just better to take the few victories as they come and save examining the warts in greater detail until the cold light of a few days later.


You have to hand it to Browns’ fans though.  One low stakes, ugly win against an arch rival and suddenly nothing looks as bleak as it did just a week ago.  Now fans are talking as if this ship is finally turning.  Then again the exact same talk, even more so, followed the victory against the Bengals and then the Chargers and we know what happened next.

There’s no way of knowing whether this thing is turning until it actually turns.  When that happens it could be that the win against the Steelers will serve as a key point on the map.  But as any Browns fan knows, the Browns have had more than anyone’s fair share of false starts and shattered hopes.  You could certainly make the case here that the defensive line is surely getting more formidable and the offensive line, despite giving up 4 sacks on Sunday, is better.  Given the ages of the players on those lines, it’s fair to get a bit charged about the future.  And if you’re like most people that know anything about football, you start to realize that good teams are built from the lines out.  That’s all good.

But the Browns aren’t suddenly a 9 or 10 win season based on anything they showed against the Steelers.  Are they more like a 6 or 7 win team? That’s a better question and an affirmative answer certainly would constitute progress of sorts.  Having weathered this team for way too long, curb the enthusiasm for now, enjoy the win for what it was, and then check back in next week to see if the team can actually do what progressing teams tend to do—use one victory as the springboard to the next.


Sunday’s win is a pretty good lesson about why it’s so difficult to call one team’s schedule tougher than another’s.  In the NFL, it’s not merely the teams you play that make a schedule difficult.  There are two far more important variables: when you play them and, to a lesser extent, where.

Looking at the Browns’ schedule last fall, it certainly looked pretty scaring to be playing the Steelers twice in the last 6 weeks of the season.  By late November the good teams are showing their mettle and the early season pretenders are fading.  It’s usually the exact wrong time to face a team like the Steelers.

If nothing else, the Browns found the most opportune time to face the Steelers and to their credit exploited it like Donald Trump exploits his ego.  You couldn’t have seen that coming last July.  And if Roethlisberger continues to hurt and the Steelers continue to lose, then they’ll be a mostly disinterested team when the Browns face them for the last game of the season, thus giving fans a real hope that the annual holiday ass-whipping won’t take place this year.

On the other hand, there’s nothing about the remaining schedule that lays out hope for anything more than a 5 win season.  With Oakland and Kansas City next, a 3-game win streak is certainly plausible or at least not nearly as ridiculous as that concept appeared at any time prior to this past Sunday at 4:15 p.m.

Can the Browns steal another victory in there and make it six wins?  If they do that, then there may be actual progress taking place because one of those wins will have come against a legitimately decent team.


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Another really strange occurrence from Sunday came after the game when it was announced that Mike Holmgren will officially leave on Friday.  I’m not sure exactly why this was announced, mainly because I thought like most fans did that he already had left and had said his goodbye.

The timing of it all was strange and there may be nothing more to read into it then the announcement signified that the Browns and Holmgren reached some sort of financial settlement to get him out of the way as quickly as possible.  But since no one loves a good conspiracy more than me, my working assumption until proven otherwise is that Holmgren’s leaving now is probably the worst news Pat Shurmur and Tom Heckert have received since they found out that Joe Banner had been hired.

Within hours after the Browns play the Steelers in the final game of the year, Banner will surely announce at least Shurmur’s fate, if not Heckert’s as well.  With Holmgren pushed aside now, those two lose their biggest ally inside the Berea headquarters.  And while it’s entirely possible and maybe probable that Holmgren’s actually leaving now is nothing more than him just being told that the buffet line at Berea could no longer accommodate one more mouth to feed, there’s at least some likelihood that it’s related to the already-decided fates of Shurmur and Heckert.  Holmgren certainly wouldn’t support dumping either one and thus wouldn’t want to be seen as part of that decision making process.  Leaving now, with a little more than a month remaining in the season, gives Holmgren plausible deniability of having participated in firing two coaches in three years.

I don’t think anything about the Steelers win on Sunday signals a change of heart regarding Shurmur.  If there’s one abiding truth in professional sports is that upper management likes to make its own hires.  Mark Shapiro fired Charlie Manuel.  Holmgren fired Eric Mangini.  These things just happen.

Shurmur wasn’t Banner’s choice and never will be and his departure, couched in the usual terms of “he did a great job but we need to move in a different direction” is inevitable.  Put it this way, Banner has had plenty of time to affirm that Shurmur is just as much his guy as Holmgren’s and not only has not done so but has actually done the opposite.  He’s left Shurmur dangling with the “we’ll evaluate everything once the season ends” line.  I don’t see how an ugly win against Pittsburgh changes anything in that evaluation.

Banner could surprise everyone and make Shurmur his guy as well but that seems as unlikely as the Browns running the table the rest of the season and even if they do it probably won’t matter.  Banner was not brought in to keep the status quo and if there’s one thing Shurmur represents more than anything else, it’s the status quo.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Things We Know--Week 10

Josh Cribbs may be a disgruntled member of the Cleveland Browns but give him credit for being the team’s best analyst. Calling the Browns a team that “almost always almost wins,” Cribbs not only captured the essence of the Browns’ latest road loss, this time a 23-20 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys, but really the story line of most of the other 8 losses this season and the dozens of losses over the last 10 years.

The Browns almost always almost do something well enough to win but it’s their abiding commitment to failure that ultimately puts them in the position to lose week in and week out. This week it was the crappy play of the crappy defensive backs, a phrase that really contains a sort of double negative so, if my algebra is correct, the simplified version comes down to the play of the defensive backs. Two weeks ago it was crappy play calling or whatever. It really doesn’t matter much anymore. If there’s a game to be played, rest assured that the Browns will do their level best to find a way to come up just short of success.

Yet there may still be something to learn from Sunday’s near win. But how you feel about the Cowboys actual win and the Browns actual loss and whether it taught you anything new about this team depends mostly on how you come out of some of the key questions underlying the game.

For example, was the apparent competitiveness of the game a reflection of Pat Shurmur’s ability to well utilize the bye week or of Jason Garrett’s incompetence as a play calling head coach in Dallas?

Shurmur is 0-2 now following bye weeks so he's not exactly Urban Meyer. He hasn’t necessarily shown much growth as a head coach but yet the team seem well prepared, at least during the first half, following the bye week. There was a crispness to the offense that had been missing in recent weeks. A healthier defensive line was certainly taking the measure of a make shift Cowboys offensive line. The Browns put themselves in a position to score at least 3 times and ended up taking a 13-0 lead into the locker room.

And while the first half was fun and made the Cowboys look more like the Browns than the Browns, the highlight for me was the following exchange that occurred between Greg Gumbel, a usually reliable play by play guy, and Dan Dierdorf, the world’s best color commentator but only if the only person in the competition with him is Matt Millen, when the Browns approached the red zone for the first time:

Gumbel (noting that the Browns are 31st in the league in scoring touchdowns when in the red zone, and probably at least 31st in the league in scoring touchdowns from wherever they are on the field): This is where the Browns struggle. I wonder why it is that some teams do better than others when in the red zone?

Dierdorf (salivating at the inane question like my dog salivates just before I finish pouring his food in his dish): Better players. Better play calling.

Precisely. The Browns had a chance to have a commanding rather than pedestrian lead at the half and didn't because they don’t have good players and then they combine that deficiency with poor play calling. Shurmur is more concerned with not getting three points then he is with trying to get seven and Brandon Weeden is worried about throwing still another interception and hurting his chances to be named best rookie quarterback not named Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck. Wasn’t that exactly the issue against the Ravens when the Browns didn’t throw even one pass into the end zone when they were in the red zone? Thought so.

All that said, let’s face it. The Cowboys knew prior to the pre-game warm ups that the Browns’ defensive secondary was pretty suspect and that’s with a completely healthy Joe Haden. Once Haden showed up in Arlington dressed more for raking leaves than doing battle with Dez Bryant, the Cowboys should have been lighting up the scoreboard. They didn’t. It was almost as if they wanted to prove that they could beat the Browns by deliberating playing to their weaknesses rather than their strengths, such as they are.

If I was Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones during his post-season meeting when he fires Garrett because the Cowboys again missed the playoffs, he should walk him through the first half of Sunday’s game each painful second at a time so that Garrett understands that instead of trying to establish a run game that they don’t have he should have had quarterback Tony Romo throwing on damn near every play. The worst thing you can do is let an inferior team believe it can play you straight up, but that's exactly what Garrett and the Cowboys did by strangely ignoring exactly what they were being given in the passing game.

Buster Skrine didn’t get the title of worst defensive back in the league through mere chance. He’s a fidget of a player with modest speed who probably couldn’t cover Brian Robiskie, let alone Dez Bryant. Yet it took the Cowboys all of the first half to figure out that when the Browns defensive backs weren’t giving 10-15 yard cushions they were interfering. The Cowboys had 10 freaking first downs on penalties, which has to be some kind of record. It would be hard to envision a more inviting passing scenario for any quarterback and yet the Cowboys acted as if the Browns had Frank Minnifield and Hanford Dixon in their primes back on every play.

On those plays were Skrine could establish contact with a receiver, he did, usually well beyond the 5-yard zone off the ball that defensive backs are allowed by rule. A flag inevitably followed. If Skrine wasn’t getting a penalty then it was only because he couldn’t even get close enough to the receiver to commit the foul in the first place.

If was actually quite fascinating when the CBS camera crew would focus on Skrine’s mug after a penalty. He didn’t look sheepish. He didn’t look indignant. He looked like a kid who knew he shouldn’t have been out there, like LeBron James at a Cavs fan party or Rush Limbaugh at a NOW convention. That the Browns had no other effective choice, or at least felt that they didn’t, than Skrine speaks more about how undeniably thin the team’s roster really is then it does about Skrine’s lack of talent.

It wasn’t just Skrine, though. Sheldon Brown did nothing more Sunday then demonstrate that he’s at least a year, probably more, past his expiration date. Because he’s been in the league as long as he has, let’s just assume that at one point in his career he had the speed and skill to cover a legitimate receiver. Not any more.

So when fans and the local writers bemoan how the officials made suspect calls late in the game and again in overtime against the Browns’ defensive backs and that this as much as anything is why the Browns lost, let’s keep that delusion in context. Browns defensive backs were committing so many legitimate penalties leading up to those situations that they had long since given up any hope of getting the benefit of the doubt during crunch time.

I’m not saying that the game wasn’t nearly as competitive as the final score and the fact that it went into overtime might indicate, but I’m not going to argue with anyone who feels differently. I suspect the Cowboys took the Browns too lightly early on. And I think that the Cowboys have their own set of issues to deal with, starting with the offensive line and their running game and moving on up to a lousy coaching staff. And while I’m at it, Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan called a strangely passive game until late. Put all that, the Browns players, the Cowboys various dysfunctions, in a stock pot, bring to a boil and stir occasionally and you have the full range of reasons that the game ended as it did.

So ultimately what we learned is that teams either play down to their level of competition when facing the Browns or the Browns players play up, again depending on your perspective. The reason it doesn't matter ultimately is that while teams with lesser talent occasionally eke out victories at every level of play, it's not the norm and that is why the Browns may be one of the better worst teams in the league, they're still one of the worst teams in the league.


If there was an encouraging sign at all from Sunday’s loss it was the noticeable change in attitude of Shurmur while in aforesaid red zone. The Brown’s first touchdown, which was a 10-yard pass from Weeden to tight end Ben Watson, was a ball thrown in the end zone. Because it was early in the game, it serves as a far better measure of Shurmur’s relative increase in boldness when measured against his fear against the Ravens two weeks ago then the second touchdown pass Weeden threw, a 17-yard pass also to Watson.

It could be that the difference is simply that the Ravens have Ed Reed and the Cowboys don’t. But I think it’s more than that. The pass to Watson was thrown directly into coverage. Indeed, Watson was surrounded by three Cowboys defenders. Two weeks ago both Weeden and Shurmur specifically mentioned not wanting to throw into coverage in the end zone for fear of the interception, which is why Phil Dawson again is the Browns' offensive MVP. In that sense, this was a big step.

Then again, when the team is 2-7 and the head coach is a lame duck and the latest regime isn’t yet sold on the decisions of the last regime, maybe it was more an example of flying by the seat of your pants. When you have nothing to win, you have nothing to lose and if anything describes Shurmur’s fate at this point it’s that.

It's far harder to measure Weeden's progress. Unquestionably he's better now then he was earlier in the season, which is a positive. He doesn't lock on receivers nearly as much, unless he's throwing deep in which case he still locks completely on that receiver, and he can generally find the outlet guy. But Weeden is still awfully late on too many passes, which is a sign that he's still reacting first and then throwing instead of anticipating as he throws.

This too is explainable since Weeden is still pretty raw and he's not throwing to the most accomplished group of receivers. Ultimately, though, when new president Joe Banner and offensive coordinator Brad Childress talk about having to evaluate Weeden at year's end, this is what they'll look for. Does Weeden make the correct reads? Does he have the kind of trigger that is more instinctive than mechanical? Those are hard things to judge and nothing about the Dallas loss added much insight except one thing.

Weeden still has horrible touch. He not only missed a wide open Josh Cooper (though in fairness, Cooper did drop a pass right in his hands earlier) and he threw about the worst pass you're ever likely to see on 4th down near the Dallas one yard line. Not knowing if the Browns would see the ball again and needing a touchdown on what could have been their last effective play, Weeden absolutely had to give his receiver a chance to catch the ball. He didn't. The throw to Jordan Cameron was well out of bounds.

As it is, Weeden wasn't helped much by the play calling. I can understand trying to force Richardson down the Cowboys' collective throats but what I can't understand is why there was no play action on that 4th down play. The Cowboys had 42 players in the box and had completely sold out on the rush. It was the exact time to fake the dive to Richardson and have the tight end on the right side release to what surely would have been open field on the right side of the line. Instead the Browns went all in on an iffy fade route to the left side of the end zone. Weeden had virtually no room to work the play and to prove it and his lack of touch, he lofted the ball at least 5 yards out of bounds.

Weeden was helped, too, by his receivers all day. Here's the place where it's time to say something nice about Greg Too Little. He made two very fine catches on poorly thrown balls and then didn't stop to celebrate either one. That's significant progress actually. How that translates to the rest of the season is hard to say although Jeff Schudel at the News-Herald seems to think that Little has completely matured and is now a leader on the team. If that's the key, no one needs Clarissa to explain it all. It explains itself.


The Browns next take on a wounded Pittsburgh Steelers team. With Ben Roethlisberger out, this simply isn't the same Steelers team that has owned the Browns like the Buckeyes own the Hoosiers. This also isn't exactly the same Steelers team because defensively it's more suspect then it has been in years. It would be nice to imagine that the Browns go all Ralphie on the Steelers and unleash a few year's worth of frustration on the bullies that torment them and it could happen that way. But past being prologue all too often with this team, they're likely to add another chapter to the almost always almost victories they've compiled against that team and the rest of the league for years.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Lingering Items--Big Mouth Big Ego Edition

Rare is it that a player in any sport says anything of great interest that when he does you want to just cut him some slack, leave the comments to dangle and just enjoy the fact that you don't have to write another “we respect our opponents” or “we're just going to go out there and try to have some fun” quote. But on the other hand, if said player in any sport is going to leave it out there dangling like a carrot at the end of a stick, said player shouldn't be surprised when someone comes along and tries to grab it.

Josh Cribbs, the special teams player ordinaire for the Cleveland Browns, used the run up to the game this week against the Dallas Cowboys to finally unleash what had been building up at least since the aftermath of the Baltimore Ravens game when he sat in the locker room biting his liplike Mitch McConnell being forced to watch a Barack Obama press conference. Cribbs said then he didn't want to say anything that would get him in trouble. Apparently after seeing the game plan against the Cowboys that didn't feature him doing anything more but watch kickoffs said over his head, Cribbs decided that trouble was the least of his concerns.

It was classic Cribbs all the way. One of the more passively aggressive athletes to wind his way through Cleveland in years, Cribbs made sure first we all understood just what a team guy he is before proceeding to explain in rather stark detail just what a typical “me first” guy he really is.

Cribbs' main gripe, of course, is that he just wants the damn ball. He explains that he believes he's the best athlete on the team and that it is wrong, shameful, boneheaded, inexplicable, pick your descriptor, that he is being used on offense slightly less than the Jets are using Tim Tebow on offense. And lest anyone thing Cribbs doesn't carry around his stats like a math geek who can recite Pi to 48 places, Cribbs told the Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot in an English be damned screed, “me going from being able to run the wildcat, to playing receiver last season and catching 41 passes and four touchdowns to nothing—I can't believe it.”

I can. There's no harm in Cribbs walking the Berea campus with confidence and swagger in his own ability. It's what athletes do or else they won't be professional athletes for long. But let's not mistake Cribbs' ego as anything more than furthering Cribbs' particular interests at the expense of the team's. It's also what athletes do.

See, Cribbs is in the final year of a contract and isn't getting the chance to show teams that his skills, such as they are, go beyond special teams. No one is paying special teams players, even with Cribbs' resume, the same as they are paying true offensive playmakers. In other words, for all of Cribbs' bitching, the words between the lines say, essentially “the Browns are taking money out of my wallet each time they design a pass play for Greg Little to drop.”

If Cribbs had merely confined his frustration to how the lack of offensive opportunities this year is costing him money next year, that would have been enough. We could have then used the opportunity to point out that the only reason Cribbs was in a position to catch said 41 passes and 4 touchdowns last season was because general manager Tom Heckert decided that the Browns didn't need to have any actual credible receivers on the roster. Someone had to get in the way of the damn ball and that someone on occasion was Cribbs. We could also have then pointed out again how Cribbs wasn't anything close to a reliable NFL receiver last year or at any point when he lined up wide. His lack of training as a receiver was the context for his inability to run anything resembling a crisp or reliable route. Sometimes he'd square in on a 10-yard pattern at 8 yards or 12 yards or wherever he felt like it. He'd do the same on a 10-yard out. He'd go long when the pattern called for him to curl in. These kinds of mistakes, repeated not just weekly but several times within each game, were understandable because Cribbs was being asked to basically play out of position.

But Cribbs wouldn't leave it at that. His unintentionally hilarious slant on the world and how he fits into it pushed him further into furthering his agenda by further feeding into the animosity fans have against Shurmur. Cribbs told Cabot that he has talked to Shurmur about his role earlier this year and that it had no impact, so no reason to go down that road. “There's no point,” he said. “Obviously they feel like everybody that's in front of me is a better athlete. I disagree. I feel a different way than the coach feels about me. They must feel I can't produce. We have a difference of opinion.” That's putting it mildly.

The truth Cribbs has never faced is that just being an athlete, for whatever that's supposed to me on a team that's supposedly filled with athletes, doesn't necessarily translate to awesomeness in any position you deem yourself capable of playing. Cribbs really never did progress as a receiver. He was raw when he started, got slightly better only through some fleeting familiarity with the position, but leveled out quickly. Think what you will about head coach Pat Shurmur and his decision making ability, but he's been around enough receivers in his life to know one that is credible and one that is not.

Shurmur isn't saying that the mediocre receivers in front of him are better athletes but he is saying they are better receivers and it's hard to argue that point. They are better receivers. They've been doing it longer and are better trained. They run better routes. In short they do the things receivers are supposed to do better than Cribbs. All Cribbs really has done is prove that he occasionally can catch a pass. He's not a deep threat. He's not a consistent go-to guy on third down. Hell, he's not particularly good at using the elusiveness he's developed as a kick returner to much effect as a receiver, mainly because by the time the ball gets to him from the quarterback, it's generally hard to shake loose the guy draped on your back.

Cribbs' comments are a challenge to Shurmur but don't expect much to come of it. There was a time when the Plain Dealer probably would have run this story on the front page of the paper, forget the front page of the sports section. Instead it was buried well inside the sports pages playing 10th fiddle to a story about John “Not Buddy” Greco and high school playoffs. That's about right. This town is indifferent.

But the impact of his words will linger. Sure Shurmur probably won't do anything because he's a lame duck and he has bigger problems to worry about, such as figuring out which teams may need a quarterbacks coach next season. But new president Joe Banner will probably notice and not in the way Cribbs imagines.

Cribbs in for a wake up call for the rest of his career. He's been fine on special teams this season but not spectacular. He may be back next year for the Browns or he may not but wherever he finds himself next and whoever he's playing for then he'll still end up being the frustrated best athlete in the room. No team short of a team like the Browns of last season that believe having credible receivers on a roster is overrated is going to insert Cribbs into the offense except as an interesting, occasional diversion.


As a wrongheaded ego-driven loudmouth, Cribbs is a mere amateur against someone with the All World skills of Rob Ryan, the former Browns defensive coordinator now plying his trade in Dallas. Because everything in a Ryan world is about a Ryan, the almost meaningless match up between the Browns and the Cowboys has turned into a sort of Call of Duty: This Time It's Personal death battle.

Apparently Ryan didn't feel like his massive skills as a defensive coordinator were respected by the Browns when they made their most recent regime change. Ryan claims he slept in the office for 7 straight weeks so that he could work longer and harder to turn around the Browns' fortunes and that this should have been recognized. It was, just not in the way he would have liked. He was fired because he was part of the stinking bath water of the Eric Mangini regime.

I'm not sure, really, what Ryan is bitching about. It's not as if he landed as a crew shift leader at Subway, though I suspect that he wouldn't have minded that gig judging by a waistline that is expanding far faster than the economy. He landed as the freakin' defensive coordinator for America's team or at least what once passed as America's team until owner Jerry Jones took it upon himself to see how many fans he could actually alienate.

What probably chafes at Ryan is not that he landed in Dallas in the same slot that he left in Cleveland but that he didn't even get an interview when Mike Holmgren hired Shurmur. That, really, is what's personal about all of this, proving that coaches aren't any more self-aware than the players under their charge.

The Browns aren't the first team to not see greatness in Ryan as a head coach. They aren't even the latest. Every year there are at least 4 or 5 head coach openings, including this past off season, and none of them resulted in Ryan being elevated to the position he really covets. If Ryan keeps making it all personal, pretty soon he's going to hold a grudge against the entire NFL establishment to the point that his only viable alternative really will be as crew chief at Subway.

There are plenty of reasons Ryan isn't a head coach and isn't likely to ever be. His lack of any semblance of personal discipline or politics makes Chris Perez look like Colin Powell. There's nothing particularly innovative about the schemes Ryan runs. He's related to Rex Ryan.

Let's also keep in mind, too, the initial and most obvious point. When a Ryan speaks it's always about the Ryan. The “this is personal” meme was even too cliché to have been a plot point on Friday Night Lights. It stopped being a motivational tool along about the time players formed a union. But as a tool for furthering the narrative of Rob Ryan it works, clumsily, but it works.

The likelihood of the Cowboys beating the Browns on Sunday is high. The likelihood of the Cowboys defense, just like any other team's defense, getting in the head of a rookie quarterback with an interception problem is equally high. So if the Cowboys do what all sense and logic dictate they should do, Ryan can at least advance the theory that it was his crazy motivational skills that righted the Cowboys ship and not the fact that as bad as the Cowboys are they still have more than enough to beat the Browns, one of the NFL's worst teams. I only hope he gets a game ball for his efforts.


Lost in all the “goodbye, Mike, we hardly knew ye” was the gem that Holmgren threw out about the itch he still has to coach one more time. If that doesn't piss off Browns fans then they truly have stopped caring.

At this point I'm pretty convinced that Holmgren's better days are well behind him but putting that aside, if Holmgren still wanted to coach there was an opening on the team that he oversaw as President not too long ago, like 3 weeks ago. When Holmgren dumped Mangini a year too late, he had every opportunity to scratch that coaching itch here and it would have been well received at least until the moment that fans realized that even a Super Bowl credentialed coach isn't going to help this team with this roster win more than 4 or 5 games a season.

It's never been adequately explained why Holmgren chose the route he did but because he did, he finds himself out of Cleveland completely, which may have been his crazy, brilliant motivation all along. Meanwhile the Browns find themselves where they tend to find themselves every two years, on the precipice of another exhaustive search for a head coach.

What all this demonstrates more than anything else is that Randy Lerner made absolutely the right decision to sell the team. It was the only right decision he made during his entire tenure. The only real hope in turning this franchise around is through an engaged owner and not one who would cower in the corner when the lights came on.

Cribbs' crybaby outburst leads to this week's question to ponder: Who would you rather have on your team, Josh Cribbs or Tim Tebow?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Lingering Items-Bye Week Edition

When I was younger and more foolish, I looked forward more to the springing forward of the time change in April then the falling back of the time change in October (now November). As I grew older and less foolish, I realized that gaining that extra hour on a Sunday in the fall was one of life’s greatest and most underrated gifts. The greatest of course is the NFL bye week, particularly if you’re a fan of the Cleveland Browns.

The bye week represents the steadying notion that come Monday there won’t be another in an endless string of competitive losses to bitch about. There’s no coaching mistake to debate. No open receivers will have been missed, no passes will have been dropped. It’s as soothing to the psyche as a down comforter is to the body on a cold winter night.

But as it always is, there’s context to a Browns’ bye week. With head coach Pat Shurmur consistently wetting the bed each week and then scurrying home to pull the sheets out of the laundry, he’s lost support more quickly then Mitt Romney with Latinos after his self-deportation remark (or, really, 47% of the electorate after his freeloaders remark). The bye week gives teams contemplating major midseason course corrections the perfect cover. If a team is thinking of dumping its latest failure and slapping the interim tag on an aging coordinator who once worked as a head coach but got fired, this is the time.

New owner Jimmy Haslam tried to stop that fire from lighting by saying even before he was officially approved as the owner that there would be no significant changes until season’s end. Of course within minutes of the approval club president Mike Holmgren effectively stepped down, signing his own exit papers from a bunker somewhere in Seattle. The only conclusion to draw from Holmgren’s exit is that Haslam didn't see this as a significant change, and it would be hard to disagree. Holmgren slept walked his way through his tenure in Cleveland, waking up long enough to cash checks and criticize the media but mostly ignoring every little detail thrown his way such as the composition of the current roster.

Haslam has kept his promise otherwise and this bye week has been eerily quiet except for an exclusive interview Joe Banner gave to two different newspapers and the early week press conference by Shurmur in which he tried to disabuse any one that they truly know what’s in his heart while giving quarterback Brandon Weeden a vote of confidence, which Banner didn't exactly parrot in his interview with the PD. Meanwhile, Haslam talked to the good folks at Crain’s Cleveland Business and gave them a preview of how he believes more marketing of the team can and should be done in the Columbus area. He also said that he’ll sell the naming rights to Cleveland Browns Stadium but that there will be others more interested than his company in acquiring those rights. That means that the Pilot Flying J’s board chairman, one Jimmy Haslam III, doesn’t see throwing any more good money after bad. Ok then.

Since neither Banner nor Haslam were particularly forthcoming, let's get back to Shurmur. Irrespective of how quiet the week has been, there’s no chance that Shurmur is standing on the sidelines at the newly-named TravelCenters Stadium next season unless it’s with a press pass from Fox Sports. Once Holmgren grabbed the first United flight out of town, Shurmur’s career in Cleveland effectively ended. Tom Heckert may be the general manager and generally the general manager generally manages the hirings of head coaches and such, but Shurmur was always Holmgren’s hire.

With his wingman gone, there’s simply no way that Haslam or new president (or whatever title he ascends or descends to) Joe Banner starts their tenure by hanging on the gloriously ineffective Shurmur. You could argue that two seasons may not be a fair test for any coach to turn around a team or franchise this woeful, but it was quite clear after one year that Eric Mangini wasn’t ever going to be effective just as it was clear after one season that Jim Harbaugh was.

So assuming he’s gone anyway, this season becomes yet another wasted effort. That said, replacing Shurmur now with Brad Childress or Dick Jauron wearing an interim tag and the clueless look of former head coaches who likewise failed wouldn’t suddenly make this season more meaningful. There are interesting little stories to follow for the rest of the year, including whether Banner believes Weeden is his quarterback (hmmm) but there’s no overarching narrative any more. The Browns will end up with another early first round pick and probably blow it, but that’s about it.

The real interest will start when the clock turns 00:00 in the season’s last game. That’s when Haslam and Banner will kick into the public phase of their efforts to find a suitable replacement for Shurmur. Haslam will want to make a splash but that doesn’t dictate a splashy hire. As a successful business type, Haslam will approach the hire in a way that never occurred to a ne’er do well like Randy Lerner. A detailed profile will be prepared that will yield someone that shares the cultures, values and goals that Haslam brings to the table. Or Banner will return a favor to a former mentor and hire his son or nephew as head coach. Either way, it will yield plenty of words.


There was a funny little item contained within the agate type of the Transactions column of the local newspaper this week. It said, under the banner “Kansas City Chiefs” that head coach Romeo Crennel had “relieved himself of the duties of defensive coordinator” which is another way of saying that Crennel the head coach fired Crennel the defensive coordinator. If that had happened in Cleveland, Lerner would probably have given Crennel the defensive coordinator a generous settlement to assuage his guilt and allow himself to sleep at night.

With the Chiefs alternatively imploding and exploding under Crennel’s watch, you get the feeling that general manager Scott Pioli must have forced Crennel’s hand in the most delicious way possible by keeping his own powder dry and making Crennel do his own dirty work. It’s totally in character for Pioli to do that and it’s totally in character for Crennel, ex-military, to obey orders. When a team is struggling, manners is the first victim.

The reason I bring any of this up is to provide contrast with the level of dysfunction in Cleveland that revealed itself this week when Shurmur said that he and Childress will need to streamline the play calling because apparently 40 seconds is just not enough time to decide on exactly which lousy 3rd and 1 play to call. “Let’s do the dump off to Owen Marecic.” “No, how about the one where Weeden rolls right and throws across his body to Greg Little slanting left.” “Or how about…shit, is the play clock down to 3 already? Somebody call time out.”

For further context to why there even needs to be streamlining, let’s not forget that Shurmur, a first year head coach, served as his own offensive coordinator last year. The Browns offense couldn’t even be called a work in progress. It was mostly a disorganized mess that put punter Reggie Hodges on the field so much that he blew out his knee. Shurmur had no Crennel moment and thought to fire himself mid-season. He limped through it with a look of self-defeat and resignation, like Rick Perry trying to explain anything, and then listened while Holmgren or, probably, Heckert doing Holmgren’s dirty work, forcefully explained the need to hire another coach.

Shurmur wasn’t keen on giving up the dual roles. It was never clear if it was an ego thing or he simply didn’t think anyone out there shared his same vibe or genius, but he certainly was a reluctant warrior. He brought in Childress as the offensive coordinator but almost from the moment the hiring occurred Shurmur basically said he would retain play calling duties.

So Childress got kicked upstairs into a booth and has been forced all season to “collaborate” with Shurmur on play calls which seems like a fairly demeaning task if you have the coordinator title but apparently is acceptable if you are an ex head coach unwilling to give up the NFL lifestyle. That collaboration has created the visible mess that fans see each week, manifesting itself in all manner of delayed play calling, wrong personnel groups, wrong calls at wrong moments and abuse of the allocated time outs.

Perhaps the biggest problem with Shurmur is that in his quest to succeed he’s become a micromanager unconvinced of and/or uncomfortable with the general competence of the coaches on his staff, particularly those on the offensive side of the ball.

If you want to understand why some are comfortable with being “the guy” and others aren’t, it usually boils down to trust. Having succeeded to the point where he could grab a head coaching position, Shurmur took ultimate control, confusing it with ultimate responsibility. When your trust level runs from A to B, there’s almost no chance to succeed. The NFL is far more complicated then it has to be, but having since made itself so complicated, it begs for the head coach to get comfortable quickly with those on his staff being richly paid to execute his vision.

Shurmur is so bad at decision making these days that he’ll probably streamline the play calling by shutting off Childress’ headset. That should quicken the calls as well as his own demise.


It was very revealing how much Weeden’s play has been influenced by Shurmur’s loss aversion. When Shurmur was pressed as to why not one single pass play for the end zone was called during any of the Browns’ 5 count’em 5 trips to the red zone last Sunday, Shurmur said that he could have probably been more heroic in the play calling but the team was on the edge of field goal range and didn’t want to suffer a sack or, God forbid, another Weeden interception. A day later, after essentially saying that he had no confidence in Weeden’s ability as a quarterback to avoid a sack or throw the ball out of bounds, Shurmur gave his quarterback a vote of confidence as the starter. Shurmur must really hate Colt McCoy.

Anyway, that same next day Weeden pretty much said the same thing as Shurmur, saying that he could have tried to squeeze a pass in but didn’t want to take that kind of chance. He was waiting, he said, for a receiver to be wide open because, as we know, that happens all the time when you’re in the opponent’s red zone. When no receiver was able to free himself of the 10-yard cushion Weeden apparently needs before Shurmur will allow him to throw into an opponent’s end zone, he dumped it off to a receiver that had no chance of sniffing a touchdown or else ran the draw play that the Lennon and McCartney of play calling, Shurmur and Childress, decided would work sufficiently enough not to screw up a field goal attempt.

If Shurmur really does have confidence in Weeden, then let him throw the friggin’ ball downfield and not just when the Browns are sitting on their own 35-yard line and a long pass intercepted serves the same purpose as a punt. The truth is that Shurmur doesn’t have any more confidence in Weeden then he had in Sam Bradford when Bradford was a rookie and seemed to set the all time record for the lowest yards per catch ratio in NFL history.

Indeed, Shurmur doesn’t show much confidence in anything and that’s why this team so often plays like a tentative mess, well that and the fact that it is a team with a poorly constructed, mistake-prone, youthful roster for which Heckert alone (apparently) is to blame. The lack of confidence is evident in matters large and small and while the team is ostensibly competitive losers, they’re losers nonetheless and for that Shurmur will pay the ultimate price when both Shurmur the head coach and Shurmur the offensive coordinator is relieved of his duties.

Josh Cribbs says that he’s tired of the constant turnover and that it’s not good for team morale or performance. How true. But consistency for consistency’s sake isn’t the answer. Look no further than Cincinnati to see how that plays out. Marvin Lewis has been there for a decade and hasn’t much moved the needle.

Here’s how Lewis’ biography reads on the Bengals’ official web site: “Marvin Lewis is in his 10th season as the Bengals head coach, having posted the most wins (69) in franchise history. He has led the team to the postseason in two of the last three seasons.” That’s it. Shorter than Mitt Romney’s concession speech.

Lewis keeps on adding to his franchise record as his 3-5 record this year now gives him 72 wins. That keeps Lewis muddling along at a 47% win clip, which means he’s averaging about 7.5 wins per season. That’s about a game better than the previous 10 years.

All this means is that Haslam could honor Cribbs’ wish for consistency as long as he’s willing to sacrifice, I don’t know, a winning record. The Bengals are models of consistency but all that’s done is entrench their mediocrity. There is a better way and while this franchise continues to take a step back in a quest to move forward, sometimes the illusion of movement is enough to satiate a bored and apathetic fan base.


With Shumur now part of the Walking Dead, this week’s question to ponder: Does Heckert face a similar fate?

Monday, November 05, 2012

The Things We Know--Week 9

Here’s something definitive we learned from the Cleveland Browns on Sunday: before you swagger, you have to learn to walk, or throw, catch, or tackle, or, for the love of God, line up correctly.

In the run up to what would become their 10th straight loss (a period that spans 5 years or roughly longer than most celebrity marriages) to the Baltimore Ravens, all the talk around Berea was that the team had a new found sense of confidence and swagger, that they were closing the gap on their AFC rivals.

It’s hard to imagine a team that has won 5 or more games just twice in the last 10 years, a team that goes through regime change like a banana republic, a team with a 29 year old rookie quarterback, a team that once again leads the league in dropped passed and blown coverages, a team so irrelevant that its highlights are relegated to 30 second blips on SportsCenter and Football Night in America, a team that is so shaky fundamentally that it routinely burns time outs because it can’t get the right players on the field or line up correctly, a team that is penciled in as a win on every opponent’s schedule when it is released each off season, and a team that hasn’t been favored to win but a small handful of times in the last 10 years, home or away, swaggering or confident about anything, let alone a match up against a team that specifically targets its visits to Cleveland as an opportunity to support its own flagging confidence.

That anyone suggested that the Browns’ had some sort of renewed purpose because they beat a poorly coached San Diego team and a poorly coached Cincinnati team while losing to an interim-coached Indianapolis team in between, is tantamount to journalistic malpractice. It’s akin to simply making things up, which is far easier than actually researching things I’ll grant you that.

The Browns are full of young players, most of whom don’t even know what they don’t know, so if they faux swagger around the Berea complex like they’ve accomplished anything it’s probably understandable in the same way your kid thinks you should buy him the latest version of Call of Duty because he only missed 3 on his 10 question spelling test. But that irrational exuberance by players who entered the game, yes entered the game, at 2-6 doesn’t mean that the team is suddenly better or that it has, in fact, actually closed the gap on its AFC rivals.

We already know that the Bengals aren’t a very good team because the only thing keeping them off the radar even somewhat for the last decade is the fact that the Browns have been worse. The Steelers looked pretty solid against the New York Giants on Sunday, that same Giants team that handled the Browns like Ohio State handled the Miami Redhawks. The Ravens are a team in transition, particularly on defense, but they still have more than enough to treat the Browns like little more than pests. So if there’s been gap closure, it was hard to tell through the fog of 5 lousy field goals on Sunday.

But if anything signifies how ill-conceived and misplaced this confidence it gained by barely handling two other lousy teams in the last three weeks it was the massive deuce the Browns’ defense and offense dropped in its own punch bowl during the first two offensive and defensive possessions of Sunday’s game.

The Ravens started the game by ramming it down the Browns’ defense’s collective throats in what basically served as a reminder as to who the daddy really is in the relationship. The Browns’ offense responded with a three and out, outsmarting itself on a third and short. So that the message wasn’t lost apparently, that exchange was repeated in nearly identical fashion on the next Ravens’ and Browns’ possessions which ended up giving the Ravens a 14-0 lead.

In addition to reinforcing the pecking order between these two teams, this tidy little exchange x 2 took the helium out of whatever balloons the fans carried in. Even when the Browns had a 15-14 lead relatively late in the game (and any lead by any Browns team that extends beyond the first quarter would be considered relatively late in the game), the fans never really bothered to re-inflate. They knew, just knew, that Phil Dawson’s fifth field goal of the game would quickly be answered by a touchdown that would give the Ravens an insurmountable lead mainly because it would be more than a 3-point gap. It was and it was and frankly the 2-point conversion was just piling on for good measure.

Which brings us to what’s become a weekly feature called “what will Pat Shurmur do on 4th and short late in the game with his team trailing?” This week it was the Browns facing a 4th and 2 from their own 28 yard line with under four minutes remaining. They had just two time outs because, no surprise, they had needlessly burned one earlier because the play clock was about to expire, again because they couldn’t get a play into Weeden in a timely fashion. Seizing a moment that he’s never seized before, Shurmur kept the offense on the field. Quarterback Brandon Weeden fired prematurely as if he was the high school geek that had somehow convinced the homecoming queen to make out with him in the back seat of his parents’ Caddy and the last remaining shred of a potential threat had ended. It wasn’t a real threat anyway because the Browns had no chance of scoring a game-tying touchdown so it’s not like the Ravens’ field goal thereafter actually put the game out of reach.

But let’s not second guess the decision on 4th down to go for it. It’s the decision Shurmur should have been making all season. Having seen it blow up in his face doesn’t make the decision wrong. The play call was fine as well. The execution was awful. It was awful all day

If you want to fault Shurmur, then fault him for the call on third down or fault him for not putting that decision in the context of Weeden’s miserable performance, but don’t fault him for trying to put a 2-6 team in a position to win the game with under 4 minutes remaining. If the Browns punt there’s no guarantee, particularly coming off a drive where the defense looked horrible while allowing the Ravens to go ahead for go in the first place, that they get the ball back, even with two time outs remaining and the two-minute warning available to stop the clock. If that had happened, the same goofs who felt that the Browns’ confidence in themselves was justifiable would be bitching that Shurmur once again failed to take a chance with a 2-6 team late in the game.

Besides, the underlying suggestion of those second-guessing this particular Shumur decision is that it was the essential reason the game was lost. Hardly. The game was lost each and every time the Browns settled for 3 points instead of getting 7. And make no mistake about it, they settled for 3 points. That’s where Shumur’s coaching went off the rails on Sunday, not on the 4th down call. The Browns were in the Baltimore red zone several times on Sunday, indeed more than the Ravens were in the Browns’ red zone, and yet not one pass was thrown in the end zone.

It didn’t even look as if one pass play for the end zone was even called and that includes the touchdown pass-that-wasn’t to Josh Gordon. Shurmur showed no confidence in Weeden at any of those critical moments and while there’s no guarantee that more aggressive play calling would have resulted in a touchdown, at least there was a chance it might have. That is the only context in which I’ll consider the 4th down call a mistake. If Shurmur won’t show confidence in his quarterback throughout the game, it gets a little tricky changing course late in the game.

And while we’re talking about Shurmur’s tentativeness as a play caller and a head coach, let’s not forget the context. It was clear from almost the first snap that Trent Richardson was going to have a good game. The Ravens don’t play great run defense anymore and Richardson had good drive in his legs that was apparent from his first carry. Instead of going to Richardson to get the tough yards on 4th and 2 or 3rd and 1 or 3rd and 1 or…, the Browns tried to be too cute by half by calling for a pass each time. That too is a measure of Shurmur’s lack of confidence in himself or his team.

A team that thinks it can’t compete attempts to win by surprise and deception instead. This Browns team isn’t going to be competitive with anyone until it has enough confidence and swagger to run Richardson into the middle of the Ravens defense that is surprisingly poor against the rush. For all the talk going into the game it was this actual crisis of confidence in Richardson, in the offense generally, that told the real story of this team and ultimately set them up for failure later in the game. It’s no surprise they failed.


While the Browns aren’t closing the gap on anyone at the moment, it is kind of fun to watch the Ravens struggle. While they’ve placed much faith in quarterback Joe Flacco, he appears to be nothing more than Weeden, except younger. Flacco has a big arm and has amazing bouts of accuracy. He also gets flatfooted and dumbfounded at times, except when he plays Cleveland. That’s when he looks like precisely what he is, a quarterback that is 10-0 against the competition.

One of the reasons though that Flacco can play with almost reckless abandon against Cleveland is the flip side of exactly why Weeden can’t play that way against the Ravens. Baltimore has Ed Reed and Cleveland does not. Reed is a ball-hawking defensive back and he literally scares the shit out of Weeden. So afraid is Weeden of Reed that it wasn’t until he was forced to at the very end of the game did Weeden even throw in that direction.

Meanwhile Flacco had no such concerns about anyone in Cleveland’s defensive backfield. This has been my point all along about Joe Haden. Until team’s game plan against him in the same way that Cleveland, for example, game plan’s against Reed, Haden won’t amount to anything more than a younger version of Sheldon Brown.

Haden’s weaknesses were fully exposed on Sunday. He can’t be trusted to cover Baltimore’s receivers one-on-one. If I was Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh I’d be wondering why Ravens’ offensive coordinator Cam Cameron abandoned what was so clearly working for them early in the game.

That said, some credit should go to Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron as well. After seeing his defensive exposed for two quick scores, adjustments got made and until the defense once again fell apart at exactly the wrong time it was keeping the Ravens in check. Running back Ray Rice ended up with 98 yards rushing but it was one of the quieter 98-yard rushing days you’ll see. The damage the Ravens did was done early and late and the middle of the game looked like just about every Cleveland Indians game from this past season, tedious when it wasn’t being outright boring.


Rarely if ever do you hear of a team saying that its bye week is coming at the wrong time. Such as it is with the Browns at the moment. It seems like every player yesterday that wasn’t dejected about the loss was just plain pissed. The source of the angst seemed multiple but mostly stems from all the losing. Most of these players have enjoyed nothing but success until they ended up with the Browns and when the best you can say about your team is that it has a lot of really competitive losses that doesn’t count for much.

When a team is struggling like this and changes are imminent, the bye week represents the best time during the season to make key changes. Yet as frustrating as Sunday’s loss was for players and fans alike, there wasn’t anything particularly unique or telling about it either. That’s why new owner Jimmy Haslam will stick to his prior statement about not making any changes until the season’s over.

Shurmur didn’t do himself many favors in the way he coached against the Ravens, but then again he’s been his own worst enemy all season anyway. Again, nothing about Sunday’s loss was any more telling or unique with respect to Shurmur then any one of the other 21 losses he’s coached this team through.

What would be helpful, at least viscerally, is if Haslam displayed some of the emotion that is on display during the game at a press conference, soon Fans who would only be satiated by a change might at least be placated for the next several weeks if they heard Haslam say that he’s tired of seeing this franchise dick around and actually start accomplishing something. The fans have supported this team above and beyond what fans should be called on to do and if Haslam truly wants to win them over, the time is now and with an appropriate or even inappropriate display of anger at the all too predictable outcomes faced each week.