Commentary: Time's Up?

Butch Davis' record against the Steelers is now 1-7, prompting David Carducci to ask hard questions about the Browns coaching staff. Should time expire on Butch Davis?<BR>

John Cooper was run out of Columbus in large part because he couldn't beat Michigan.

In 13 years, his 2-10-1 record against the arch-rival Wolverines was a source of embarrassment Ohio State couldn't afford.

The time may have arrived for Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner to wonder if his franchise and the fans of Cleveland can afford to suffer the same kind of humiliation under Butch Davis.

Including an ugly 34-23 loss Sunday at Heinz Field, the Browns are a dismal 1-7 against the hated Pittsburgh Steelers with Davis as coach.

At least under Cooper, Buckeyes fans could expect a marginally entertaining product, rosters loaded with talent, and a team that almost always finished the season with a winning record and a bowl berth.

Under Davis, the Browns are almost unbearable to watch.

When they win, they win ugly. And when they lose, they lose even uglier.

Four years into Davis' stay in Cleveland and Browns fans are still complaining about the same problems that haunted their team back in 2001. No pass rush and poor tackling on defense. Dreadful pass protection and little room to run the ball on offense.

The Browns have won just 23 of 53 games and earned just one playoff in the last four years. And in that time, Davis' team still has not forged an identity.

Davis has the nerve to tell the fans he wants the Browns to be a smash-mouth running team.

But how can he expect to be a smash-mouth football team if he is unwilling to make a serious investment in his offensive line? And when the running game fails, how can he expect to pass the football?

There is a serious flaw in Davis' philosophy.

Davis has never drafted a tackle or a guard higher than the sixth round. In 2003, he finally selected an offensive lineman in round one when he picked center Jeff Faine 21st overall.

But that pick only undermined the selection of another center, Melvin Fowler, in the third round one year earlier. The third round is a high value pick for a center, and in drafting Faine, Davis was essentially admitting that he either made a mistake a year earlier, or his coaching staff couldn't develop the talent that inspired the first-day selection of Fowler.

After openly admitting the offensive line needed an upgrade at the end of the 2003 season, Davis used the off-season to add another low sixth-round pick in Kirk Chambers and sign a marginal free-agent talent in Dallas and San Diego castoff Kelvin Garmon.

In explaining Sunday's loss, Davis again pointed to an offensive line that struggled to protect quarterback Jeff Garcia, who was hounded and harassed by the Steelers blitz every almost time he dropped back to pass.

What else should Davis expect from the product he puts on the field every Sunday?

Davis made Tim Couch the scapegoat for the Browns offensive woes in the last three seasons. But how can any quarterback find success when he's being sacked 100 times, as Couch was in those three years as a part-time starter? Garcia's experience hasn't been any different. The veteran quarterback Davis so desperately needed has spent most of his first five games as a Brown running for his life while being sacked 13 times.

Garcia's short stay in Cleveland has also included three carelessly fumbled snaps and one awful game with a 0.0 quarterback rating.

After watching Garcia fumble another shotgun snap Sunday at a point in the fourth quarter when the Browns were just starting to believe they could mount a comeback, Davis insisted "Jeff Garcia is right for this offense" and excused the fumble by saying the snap by Faine was too high.

The snap was not high. It hit Garcia square in the hands, just in front of his chest.

It's a typical excuse from a team used to making them.

The Browns offense is out of sync because it takes time to develop chemistry with a new quarterback, even a 34-year-old veteran like Garcia. But for some reason the Steelers have found a way to make their offense work, even behind a raw rookie quarterback thrust into action ahead of schedule just three weeks ago.

The Browns have been unlucky in the last four years, suffering from a series of heartbreaking injuries. Yet somehow the Steelers managed to beat the Browns Sunday with their starting quarterback and arguably their best defensive player sidelined by injury. Somehow the New England Patriots manage to compete for championships as injury numbers mount.

It's getting old. Old enough that Lerner should demand more.

Browns fans deserve more.

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