With one solid, and one very poor performance in the books heading into this past weekends game at New York, the Cleveland Browns found themselves at an early crossroads to the 2004 season.
The match-up against the beatable Giants was akin to a test of this team and where they presently stand in comparison to the rest of the league as we get prepared to head into the heart of a schedule that gets very tough in weeks five through thirteen. It was a test of this team's depth in the wake of a rash of injuries in week two. It was a test of our beleaguered offensive line, and many of the players on that line that the team felt highly enough of to justify completely ignoring an upgrade of the unit in the off-season. It was a test of our ability to rush the passer against a weak opposing offensive front and a set of skill position players prone for turning the ball over. It was a test of the Browns ability to go into hostile territory and play well enough to emerge with a much needed win to keep us positioned well in our division.
The Browns failed all aspects of this test so miserably, that is was
literally painful to watch. I liken it to watching your brother getting his
butt kicked in a fight, and not being able to jump in. If you are one for
analogies, the team's aptitude in this test was so pathetic, they made Bluto
Blutarski look like a Rhodes Scholar.
LOOKING FOR POSITIVES
Let's start here, because the rest of this piece will be written with a scowl on my face. I made it no secret that I expected the team to play well in this spot, and I came away vastly disappointed.
First off, we are only three games into the season; we're just one game out of first, and have yet to lose a game in our division. While the middle of the schedule is very tough, our final four games of the year are against Buffalo, San Diego, Miami, and Houston. While this may seem like asking a lot to a lot of fans after yesterday's debacle, if we can somehow get it to 6-6 heading into mid-December; that will at least give us a chance to extend the season heading down the stretch. I'm still not convinced that this year's team is worse than the 7-9 and 9-7 versions of 2001 and 2002 respectively.
The offense looked much better in the second half once Robiskie and Butch
stopped living in constant fear of Michael Strahan. William Green looked good,
and made strides in learning how to work in unison with Terrelle Smith. He
would have had almost 150 yards rushing had his 49-yard touchdown run not been
called back due to the "mystery holding penalty" that no one can seem to find on
tape. The line run blocked well at times, despite the absence of Ryan Tucker.
Phil Dawson and Ryan Frost continued to perform at a high level, and Ebenezer Ekuban and Orpheus Roye also both continued to make consistent contributions.
This week's game at home against the Redskins is a must win if the team plans on accomplishing anything this season. Yes, I know it's only week four, and we reside in a division where we are just one game out and nine wins could be enough. It's still a must win. A loss this week would simply further deflate a team that "is sick of losing" per the locker room comments of many of the veterans that have been here a couple seasons. It would alienate the fan base, and send "Butch Watch 2004" to record levels of heat and intense pressure. It would kill all hopes of contention from even the most optimistic of fans and media types, prompting them to the ledge with the legions of others lined up to jump after last week's debacle.
Another reason this is a must win is because of the nature of the Browns
upcoming schedule. The following week we are at Pittsburgh, and then host the
Bengals, before having to face Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati,
the Jets, and New England. The schedule lightens up at the end, but three of
those four games are on the road … where the Browns were just dominated by a
A SIMPLY OFFENSIVE LINE
There's no other way to put it. Yet again, this is one of the worst offensive lines in football, featuring the worst starting pair of offensive guards in the league. The Browns refusal to upgrade this unit, after I sat there and watched Butch and Carmen PROMISE me it would be addressed in last year's season ending press conference, is beyond dumbfounding to me. Watching Browns quarterbacks get repeatedly pummeled into the ground upon just completing their three step drops is becoming so tiresome that I am starting to actually feel the hits when watching from my couch … like Garcia is some sort of sick and twisted NFL voodoo doll making me share in his pain. Simply put, the Browns offensive line has more problems than a math book, and all the blame should go right on Butch Davis, who arrogantly ignored this immense team weakness this off-season.
We did make one addition, but Kelvin Garmon may have been the worst free agent signing this team has made since Andre Rison. He's such a putrid pass blocker, and so athletically limited that you wonder what it is the Browns brass actually saw in him. He was kicked to the curb by the anemic Chargers and not pursued by any other NFL team … yet we thought enough of him to sign him and hand him an uncontested starting job?
And I'm beginning to wonder if Larry Zierlien has incriminating pictures of
Butch Davis. Yes, Larry is saddled with poor personnel, but remember that he
helps decide that personnel in the off-season. The Browns simply look confused
and inept up front to start nearly every game. Adjustments are made, and the
line tends to play a little better as the game progresses, but why is it that
the line looks so confused by what the opposing defense is bringing at us to
start each game?
A DISTURBING SCHEME
How can the Browns, Butch, and Robiskie realistically expect to move the ball offensively when everyone in the stadium knows exactly what they are going to be doing? It's not as if we feature Jonathon Ogden and Jamal Lewis, and can dictate the pace of the game up front. Phil Simms said on several occasions that the Giants were well aware of the fact that the Browns were going to double Strahan, try and establish the run often, and throw short. Until the second half, when the Giants slipped into a semi-prevent, we were unable to do anything as the Giants loaded eight in the box and took away all the underneath stuff. If the Browns want to have any success with this new "power run game", they must make teams respect their ability to throw the ball downfield … especially with a rag tag offensive line. If I know this, how can Robiskie and Butch not know this?
Two other things were very disturbing to me. First and foremost was the statements by Butch that the Browns had to "throw out half the playbook" in the wake of Kellen Winslow's broken fibula. Half the playbook must be omitted to compensate for the loss of a rookie tight end that caught five balls in two games? Also, what does that say about Aaron Shea and Steve Heiden?
Secondly, were the admissions of "coaching mistakes" in the first half in
their strategy to "not let Michael Strahan beat them", which resulted in a
Neanderthal-like offensive philosophy that netted next to no production before
things were opened up a bit in the second half. I hear things like that and
start to seriously worry about the direction this team is headed in.
INJURIES AND PENALTIES
All four years of the Butch Davis regime have been saddled with rampant injuries and an abundance of penalties. In any one or two isolated seasons, these occurrences can be written off as instances that fluctuate from year to year, and that in the end, will even out when compared to the rest of the league.
It's getting to the point, especially with the penalties, where I am starting to wonder if some of this is a byproduct of coaching. Nothing I saw at training camp would lead me to believe this, but what is one to think when seeing the same frustrating mental mistakes week in and week out?
My sole hypothesis is that Butch, Pete, and the rest of our personnel guys
are too worried about measurables like forty time, bench press repetitions, and
vertical leap, and not worried enough about the football IQ of players we are
bringing in. In college, it's good enough to simply target the best athletes.
In the NFL, you must be able to bring in athletes that also know how to play the
It's clear that many in this city are starting to seriously question whether or not Butch Davis has the ability to take this team to the next level. I've always said that I think Butch is an above average game day football coach, but that he leaves a lot to be desired as a personnel guy. I put myself amongst the large lot of people fully willing to give Butch the entire 2004 season to show me what he can accomplish with a group of guys he has handpicked before judging whether or not I want him to coach and general manage this team in 2005 and beyond.
It's hard to imagine that Butch will ever relinquish his Executive VP powers, a la Mike Holmgren, even if he is asked to by Randy Lerner at season's end. That could put Randy in a very tough position come the end of this season, should this team limp along to another five or six win effort. Randy gutted the team's front office and administrative positions this off-season, and has a team President/CEO in John Collins that knows less about NFL personnel than you and I. Firing Butch would also mean the ouster of Pete Garcia as well as may of our pro and college scouts that came along with him. Also, it seems like only a matter of time before Personnel Director Jeremy Green joins his father Dennis in Arizona.
Wielding the axe to Butch at season's end would essentially mean turning over the entire front office and management staff in one year's time. Would Randy be willing to do that? And why does Pete Garcia not catch any heat from the local media?