Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Well, That Happened...

Early in Sunday’s dumpster fire of a loss to the lowly Oakland Raiders, it was hard to recognize the Cleveland Browns.  Oh the play on the field was very familiar.  That hasn’t changed.  What was out of whack was more visual and took more than a few seconds to pinpoint.  But there it was.  Stride for stride with every bad play was a team doing so in the ugliest uniforms in the entire league. 
There is nothing at all to recommend what the Browns now look like to the viewing public except in a Value Jet kind of way.  If the purpose of those uniforms is to distract the fans into thinking they’re actually rooting for a whole different franchise then, but only then, will the new uniforms be a success. Otherwise in practice it was the usual way the Browns do things, poorly and without much thought.
But why harp on what surely is the least of this team’s problems?  The Browns have played 3 league doormats in 3 consecutive weeks.  They’ve only been competitive once.  There are plenty of conclusions to drawn without having to sort through the visual mess as well.
The other thing that struck as I watched the crawler on the screen displaying scores from other games was the performance of  Tyrod Taylor of the Buffalo Bills had against another of the league’s many, many doormats, the Miami Dolphins.  It’s not that just that Taylor played well or that he played better Sunday (and all season) than anyone on the Browns’ roster It’s just that it’s hard to imagine a scenario wheere anyone in this Browns’ organization would have had any sense to even give Taylor the kind of shot he’s getting in Buffalo.
This really is the essence of what plagues the Browns and it’s the same as it’s been for years. The barest of strategies, the poorest of execution. Shoddy, clueless owners who choose incompetent “football men” to run what’s turned out to be the same old same old with the same old same old players expecting a different result and complaining that it’s just a matter of execution when the result is what it’s always been.
Entering the season the Browns had aging journeyman Josh McCown and the league’s biggest question mark, Johnny Manziel at quarterback.  Just as the Bills added Taylor for depth, the Browns could have done likewise but stood pat instead.  Taylor may have reached his peak and could regress.  The point though is that the Browns don’t think like other teams and that’s always to their disadvantage.
Let’s assume owner Jimmy Haslam is sincere and driven to bring a prideful, winning franchise to the shores of Lake Erie.  He sure has a funny way of showing it.  We all understand how he ended up with Mike Pettine as his head coach.  By the time his front office got done fiddling around with the longest search in NFL head coach search history, Pettine was essentially the only available candidate left and he was barely a candidate at that.  The more credible, the more qualified had long since found more stable environments and at this point even Syria is a more stable environment.
What is more difficult to understand is why Haslam has any remaining faith in Ray Farmer, the general manager he seems to trust all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.  It’s hard to imagine that Farmer, the guy who brought you, in no particular order, Josh McCown, Justin Gilbert, Johnny Manziel and the relatively expensive Dwayne Bowe, would remain employed by any other franchise.  Farmer literally has no track record of accomplishment and nothing he’s done in Cleveland has built his resume except in the most negative ways possible. He has no eye for talent and, more devastating, no understanding of how to construct a roster.  I wouldn’t spot him $200 on Draft Kings to run my fantasy team let alone run an actual team.
Sunday’s loss was like the opening day loss and completely illustrative of Farmer’s and Pettine’s shortcomings.  Let’s start with Pettine’s role first.
The team was once again an undisciplined mess and irrespective of the talent level there’s no excuse when it comes to either discipline or effort.  Completely misreading the vibe of his team, Pettine claimed that McCown gave the Browns the best chance to win on Sunday despite the fact that Manziel actually led the team to a victory, it’s only victory, the week before.  The offense seemed hungover by that decision and responded with a performance so reminiscent of week one it was as if you CBS was merely playing that week one tape.
Silly penalties, out of position players, bad blocking, worse tackling, awful coverage, momentum-killing special teams, this game had it all.  And more!  Pettine is trying to instill a tough-minded, old school attitude in a team that plays like the point of professional football is to have fun and not get hurt.  His teams consistently commit one silly penalty after another.  They often look lost and unmotivated.  Perhaps the worst indictment is that they play as if pride isn’t part of the equation.  In short, all the things that fall on the coaching staff went awry, every single one of them.  If you can tell me exactly what the game plan for the Browns was on either side of the ball, email me, enlighten me, defend Pettine.  I can’t.
But let’s also remember that Pettine is playing with a roster built by Farmer.  There, I’ve defended him.  That still is no excuse for all the mental mistakes but it does in large measure explain the lack of fundamental skills available to Pettine for executing his vision.
Pettine told the media that the theme of this year’s team is to put words into action, to not just talk about being the best this or the best that but go out and actually show it.  In truth, this team does not have the talent to be the best at anything except talking and that’s on Farmer, so let’s focus on him.
The offensive line, supposedly one of the best in the league, just ask them, was going to be even better this season with the return of center Alex Mack from injury.  It isn’t, proving only that Mack really wasn’t the lynchpin he appeared to be when he first got hurt.  Because so many on the line get beat by the defensive line it holds constantly.  It false starts even more often.  It hasn’t opened a legitimate hole for a running back since Gene Hickerson played and it hasn’t adequately protected a quarterback since, well, Gene Hickerson played.
Farmer supposedly built this team to be run-centric in order to minimize the constant shortcomings he and every general manager before him has in finding a competent quarterback.  Putting aside the incongruity of building a run-centric team in a pass happy league, if you’re going to be run oriented then you need a line that can block for a player that can run. The Browns have neither which is why almost any lead an opponent gets is safe.
On defense the Browns can’t stop anyone doing anything.  They are dead last in the run, again.  The defensive backfield is a mess, as usual.  Joe Haden continues to be the most overrated corner in the league and whoever is second is a distant second.  Haden seems to have cultivated his reputation on the backs of the kind of receivers that generally suit up for the Browns—slow, small, possession-type receivers.  Put a legitimate big-time receiver on him, say Brandon Marshall or Amari Cooper, and he turns into Buster Skrine.  You can’t be a great cover corner if you can’t cover the league’s better receivers.  We can talk about Justin Gilbert, number 1 pick Justin Gilbert, not contributing at all but those mounds of dirt have been turned over enough.  Farmer lays at the root of every roster problem on this team and right now it’s hard to see a path to 5 wins, let alone to 9.
The Browns put together a good game the previous week.  In many ways it was the polar opposite of the week before.  But just one week later it’s as if the win against Tennessee didn’t take place.  This team simply doesn’t progress and there’s nothing, from the owner’s box to the front office to the coaching staff to the roster that suggests, let alone gives any hope, that there’s progress to be made.
But hey, why talk about any of that.  The Browns have new uniforms and, as Carl Speckler would say, they have that going for them, which is nice.

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