"Failure comes only when we forget our ideals and objectives and principles."
WADHAMS, Mich. – You can lay this one squarely at the feet of Bruce Arians and his rapidly graying goatee.
Cleveland's offensive coordinator doesn't trust his players, and that lack of faith came home to roost Sunday with all the subtlety of a 200-pound wombat in a Benzedrine frenzy.
Like John Cooper in a close game against Michigan, Arians goes conservative until it's nearly too late. On Sunday, it was too late. An afternoon of botched play-calling kept Cleveland's defense on the field past the breaking point, leading to defeat at Paul Brown Stadium. It was a cruel blow on a day when the Indians were self-destructing 280 miles up Interstate 71.
Arians clearly doesn't have enough faith in Tim Couch to let the Young Kentuckian take over a game with his right arm. Instead, an offense hamstrung by a series a failed runs on first down struggled in long-yardage situations the entire afternoon.
Only when the cause was hopeless did Couch get the green light to let ‘er rip. He responded with nearly 100 yards passing in the fourth quarter, including a 3-yard scoring strike to little-used (though expensive) H-back Mike Sellers with :39 remaining. The Bengals knew Couch was going to throw, but they couldn't stop him.
Hello, Bruce? Are you out there? Listening? Good. Let Tim Couch throw the damn football. No more of this eight or nine pass attempts by halftime for 80 yards. Put the ball in the kid's hand and let the Bad Guys try to stop him. He clearly knows where Kevin Johnson is going to be without even looking. Take advantage of that BEFORE the scoreboard looks unfavorable.
In five games, Couch has illustrated he can survive hits, escape pressure, read defenses, cycle through his progression, call the correct audible, make plays out of nothing and not get jellified by mistakes. What more does he have to show? Constantly using James Jackson as a human battering ram between the tackles instead of throwing was bound to fail. It did Sunday.
In games against San Diego, Jacksonville and Seattle, Couch proved his mettle by dissecting any defense in front of him. On Sunday, he was asked primarily to bail out a failed running game that netted a pathetic 1.7 yards per carry on 20 rushing attempts.
Why Jackson and Jamel White's number kept getting called was simple: Cleveland's offense is predicated on the play-action pass. To make it work, the team needs to run the ball. If the ground game sputters and stalls like it did Sunday, everything collapses. The threat of the run is an absolute necessity for the offense to work. If the team doesn't run, then the linebackers don't bite on Couch's play-fakes.
But when it's ain't working, it's time to jettison the safe, sound numbers game and let the people who get millions of dollars wing it.
Despite the Browns' ineptitude on the ground, Cincinnati – for reasons only beknownst to them – continued to get suckered into Couch's play-action passes, even into the fourth quarter. Too little, too late however. There was nothing Couch could do from the sideline as a tired defense, which had carried the team this far, finally blew out like an old tire.
And to think, Corey Dillon might have been getting those handoffs from Couch instead of John Kitna.
The offensive line deserves almost as much credit as Arians for the defeat. Not only could the line not create holes for Jackson and White, it was unable to effectively protect Couch from pressure on the perimeter. He was sacked and tossed around like a rag doll. It's only a matter of time before we see Kelly Holcomb under center and Couch swathed in bandages.
The line also committed a series of moronic penalties on a critical fourth-quarter drive, killing momentum and any chance of victory. Couch could have overcome the defense, but not his own coordinator and line.