Behind Enemy Lines: 49ers/Browns, Part II
Craig Massei, NinersDigest.com: Two decades after he was helping the 49ers win Super Bowls as their offensive coordinator, the name of San Francisco native Mike Holmgren still carries some weight in these parts. Holmgren proved to be a 49ers nemesis during his tenures in Green Bay and Seattle, but how is he doing now running the operation in Cleveland as team president? How did his first season in that role go last year, and what are your impressions of Holmgren and the job he is doing in turning around the Browns after their recent run of 4-12 and 5-11 seasons?
Lane Adkins, theOBR.com: Mike Holmgren came to Cleveland and the expectations have been high. Being starved for a winner for a significant amount of time, the Holmgren history factor certainly got the fans attention and hopes high. Now, in Holmgren's second season as team president, fans are becoming a little impatient. Not simply due to the team record, but due to the lack of progress on the offensive side of the ball. Holmgren hired head coach Pat Shurmur, who also is the offensive coordinator of a Browns offense which lacks imagination, playmakers and consistency. Holmgren's best move to date was hiring Tom Heckert as the general manager of the Browns. While Heckert has been relatively reserved in his efforts to secure talent via free agency, his draft record through two years at the helm has lent promise and has already provided starters of impact on the defensive side of the ball.
Craig Massei: Holmgren made the switch this year from Eric Mangini to Pat Shurmur, giving the Browns their third head coach in four seasons. Was that a wise move? We know Shurmur has a history with GM Tom Heckert, but is Shurmur the right guy for the job? What are your impressions of Shurmur and the job he's doing so far as a head coach, and what kind of changes has he brought with him that will help the Browns?
Lane Adkins: Differences in offensive football philosophy and Mangini not being a Holmgren 'guy' made his departure expected and probably one year late in the making. While uncertain whether Shurmur is or will be a better head coach of the Browns, there is certainly a closer relationship from the front office to the coaching staff and players with the Mangini departure and Shurmur hire. Players like to play for Shurmur. There is a common note from the players that Shurmur provides the player leadership in the locker room to be involved, a freedom most state. While the choice of Shurmur wasn't one which left Browns fans excited, the change did provide the organization to bring in defensive coordinator Dick Jauron and assistant Ray Rhodes to lead the browns to the fourth overall defense in the league to date. Whereas the defense has been a monumental upgrade, the offense under the direction of Shurmur has been poor without a glimpse of promise to date.
Craig Massei: Brad Seely has stepped right in and done an excellent job directing the 49ers' specialty units this season as San Francisco's special teams coordinator. That's a job Seely held the past two years in Cleveland, and considering his reputation and success around the league, what were the circumstances surrounding his departure from the Browns in the offseason to join the 49ers? Did the Browns not want him back? What kind of impact has his departure had on the Browns, and has there been any fallout because of it?
Lane Adkins: Seely is missed by a Browns team which has taken a step back in every special teams statistical category. Seely's units in Cleveland provided big plays throughout his two seasons in Cleveland, and they were known around the league as a staple of what the Browns were about. When former head coach Eric Mangini was terminated by the Browns, Seely as an assistant head coach and special teams coordinator had the opportunity contractually to seek emolument elsewhere. The Browns sought to retain Seely, but the veteran coach viewed the 49ers job an excellent opportunity and headed off to San Francisco.
Craig Massei: We're hearing that not everybody is thrilled about the idea of Colt McCoy as the Browns' franchise quarterback, but that the team is giving McCoy this season to prove himself and determine exactly where the Browns stand with him for the future. Is that an accurate assessment of the situation? We've seen McCoy show some promise at times and not look so good on other occasions. How is McCoy developing as a QB/team leader, and is he the answer for the team at the position? Is he the Browns' QB of both the present and future?
Lane Adkins: Yes. McCoy is basically getting the opportunity to show this organization whether he has the tools to be the leader of the Browns offense into the future. McCoy displays leadership ability, but his lack of size and not sporting an arm capable of squeezing the ball into small windows leaves many questioning whether he is the guy. The surrounding talent within the Browns offense is questionable. Lacking difference makers offensively only places an additional focus on the young QB, but McCoy also has to play better for this team to develop and improve. The jury is out on McCoy, as well as for many within the Browns offense. The 2011 season is one of development on the playing field and of evaluation by the coaching staff and front office.
Craig Massei: The 49ers have been raving this week about the way the Browns play defense. With a No. 4 NFL ranking in total defense this deep into the season, that obviously means the Browns are doing something right on that side of the ball. What have been the major factors in the Browns' success so far on defense? How significant has that unit's play been in keeping the Browns right in the thick of things with a 3-3 start? What does San Francisco's 27th-ranked offense need to do to beat that defense, and what will that unit focus on to shut down the 49ers?
Lane Adkins: The Browns defense is young up front, experienced at LB and mixed in the defensive backfield. The play of the DBs in the scheme have helped mask a lack of speed and quickness of the LBs in coverage, and the Browns front seven has been good at getting pressure on the QB. The Browns DTs are physical and quick, while the DEs are extremely quick off the snap and have worked diligently to maintain edge containment. Despite giving up too much yardage on the ground overall, the Browns defense has been decent on first down and very good on second down, leaving them in manageable third-down-and-distance situations. To beat this Browns defense, a team such as the 49ers needs to be physical (which they are), rush the ball effectively (which they do) and limit third-and-long situations. The Browns OLBs can be beaten in coverage, especially by an athletic TE or a quick RB out of the backfield. As with every other week, the Browns defense will commit to stopping the run, play a Tampa-2 type look in the secondary and look to over/under coverage on an athletic TE. The Browns will look to pressure the QB with four down linemen, while occasionally sending a LB on the blitz. If the 49ers are in a two- or three-receiver set, the Browns have displayed the tendency to send DB blitzes on the short side if the field.
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