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Derry: No Time for Controversy

The Browns were slow out of the gate on Sunday, and Frank Derry offers his analysis as to some of the contributing factors. More original analysis that you can get <A HREF="">only</A> by subscribing to!

One thing that has always amazed me is the importance that a lot of fans and some players place upon who starts in games that allow free substitution.

In other words, what does it matter who is on the court when a basketball game begins? Isn't it a lot more important who is playing during the final two minutes when far more games, especially those on the professional level, are decided?

I really think that on the final stats sheet, it shouldn't list "Games Started" but rather "Games Finished." Or maybe, just to appease traditionalists, there could be a spot for both of those stats. John Havlicek, one of the NBA's all-time greats, never cared whether he started, but definitely wanted to be on the court during crunch time.

That mentality seems perfect in that when other players might be getting a bit winded, you come in fresh off the bench and have an immediate advantage. Or, if the other team substitutes, you end up matching up, at least for a short time, with what is probably inferior talent.

That same mentality should extend into football, where few games are decided in the first 15 minutes. Granted, a touchdown in the first quarter counts just as much as a touchdown in the fourth quarter. But realistically, when the game is on the line in the closing moments is when I want my most productive players to be on the field and not be dead tired from having played the whole game.

It might very well be that if a guy isn't in the starting lineup, he will be fresher and more effective in the fourth quarter. This is particularly true when it comes to running backs and defensive linemen.

I bring this up now only because such a huge deal was made of the William Green-Lee Suggs situation in the days leading up to the Steelers game.

Rather than concentrating on getting prepared to defeat their arch-rivals in a game that had first place riding on the outcome, Green, because he was upset about not being used in the second half against the Redskins, had his quarterback and head coach talking about how the backfield's workload should be divided.

Jeff Garcia said he would like to see one guy get the majority of the playing time. "Maybe it will be a 60-40 or 70-30 split, but the guy who you think is going to be the most productive for the team, that guy should get the majority of the load," Garcia said.

As is rapidly becoming a custom, Butch Davis saw it differently. (These two guys just don't seem to be on the same page in regards to anything involving the offense.) 

Davis is comfortable going with "running back by committee." If that means each guy gets 20 carries, so be it. If it means one guy gets all the carries in the second half, so be it as well. And if the latter happens, no apologies should be necessary from the head coach.

But because Green's feelings were hurt when he didn't play in the second half of the Browns' come-from-behind victory over the Redskins, Davis felt it necessary to tell Green that his not playing in the third or fourth quarter was an oversight, one which the head coach would try to avoid in the future.

Green's unhappiness was obvious when he refused to talk to the media immediately after the game or in the first few days in preparation for the Steelers.

Davis tried his best to downplay the situation, saying, "I wasn't even truly aware it had gotten out of hand in the second half. I would've loved to have given William more (carries) because he ran well."

Yes, he averaged 4.3 yards per carry against the Redskins. But he only carried four times for 17 yards, which is not enough to say he "ran well." You can't, or at least shouldn't, say a guy had a good game when he touched the ball just four times!

You wouldn't say it unless you are trying to appease a guy who you know has had his ego bruised. Davis doesn't want to alienate Green, which could possibly be a problem if Green thinks he is being forced to take a backseat to Suggs.      

When Green finally broke his silence two days before the Steelers game, he announced that Davis had made it clear to him that he would, for the fifth straight week, be the starter.

Obviously, by starting Green, Davis is trying to defuse what could be a future problem. He wants to keep his players happy. And if that means naming Green as the starter, at least for the time being, he will do it, simply because he knows it's not really all that important who is in the backfield for the first series of the game.

The bottom line is Davis's problems run far deeper than just naming Green the starter. By Green making a big deal out of the possibly of not starting implies that he cares more about his own personal success than that of the team.

Green says that is not true, that winning is his No. 1 objective.  But if he really put the team first, he wouldn't have made public, through his silence, his unhappiness with the situation.

And remember, he showed his unhappiness after a victory. Imagine how he'll feel if he doesn't play in the second half of a game the Browns lose.

There's no way of telling if the running back situation had an adverse affect on the team's preparation for the Steelers, a game the Browns needed to win to gain a share of first place in the AFC North. Instead, the Steelers' 34-23 romp upped their record to 4-1, while the Browns fell to 2-3.

Because it was such a lopsided game, the Browns' running game was a non-factor. Green again had an excellent average, getting 27 yards on three carries. But the key number there isn't his sparkling 9 yard per carry average, but rather the fact he carried just three times, which tied his NFL low in carries for any game in which he has appeared.

Suggs, meanwhile, had 11 carries for 30 yards. But even though Green's numbers were better, it just seems like the Browns' offense flows a bit better when Suggs is in the game. 

Unfortunately for Davis and his Browns, their problems offensive woes run much deeper than the running back situation. Their passing game is in shambles. Garcia has to scramble for his life on virtually every passing play. And the wide receivers often times look like they have never even been on the same practice field with their new quarterback.

Fortunately, the Browns are at home for the two games prior to their break on Oct. 31. If they can somehow gain a split against the Bengals and Eagles, there is some hope. Remember two years ago, the team used its bye week to make offensive changes that helped turn their season around and eventually earned them a playoff spot.

A similar scenario might need to happen again this year. But if the Browns lose their next two games and are 2-5 at the break, instead of the coaches looking to change their offensive playbook at intermission, owner Randy Lerner might be looking to make a few changes of his own.

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