Fight, Comments, Should Not Hide Huge Problem

The pre-game comments by Gerard Warren, and pre-game fighting by the Steelers and Browns, are just a thin covering over a poor display by the Browns against the Steelers, Frank Derry writes. Here is instant analysis of today's 24-10 loss to the Browns rivals...<BR><BR>

Nine years ago, Bill Belichick, to the surprise of everyone, opted to have the Browns kick a field goal in the closing seconds of a blowout loss to the San Diego Chargers.

To this day, I believe the only reason he did so was to take the spotlight off the putrid performance by his team in the 31-13 loss. Instead of critics blasting the team for playing an awful game, everyone spent several days questioning Belichick's sanity for sending in his field goal kicker. It was an ingenious move on his part.

Hopefully, in the wake of Sunday's 24-10 loss to the Steelers, thus for all intents and purposes eliminating any chance the team had of making the playoffs, people will concentrate on the major problem on this team, not the sideshow that only served to stoke the fires of the already red-hot rivalry.

Gerard Warren's tirade about taking off Ben Roethlisberger's head and then the pre-game fight between William Green and Joey Porter should merely be a footnote in this storied rivalry.

The real story of Sunday's game, and the entire season for that matter, is the complete lack of offensive cohesion. To say it is on the high school level would be a slap in the face for many high school teams.

False starts, absence of any type of audible system and the inability to get plays in on a timely basis are all signs of an offense that is in shambles.

For reasons which defy explanation, the offensive linemen on this team have a very difficult time avoiding false starts.

Through nine games, they have been guilty of 16 false starts, several coming from the offensive guards.

Straight-talking quarterback Jeff Garcia said point blank "there is no excuse" for a guard to ever have a false start.

"It is about discipline," Garcia said. "It really is. It is about attention to detail.

"The guard is right next to the football. There is no excuse for jumping off-sides. That starts in training camp. That starts when you start playing football at the elementary school level. There is just no excuse. It comes down to being accountable for you and doing the right thing."

The penalties are bad enough, but the reality of the matter is, the offensive line problems run much deeper.

For instance, a hidden negative is that, due in part because of the fear of even more penalties and missed assignments, the Browns have taken away Garcia's ability to audible at the line of scrimmage. In fact, the audible is pretty much not even a part of the Browns' game plan.

Can you imagine the predicaments quarterbacks like Bernie Kosar and Brian Sipe would have found themselves in without the ability to audible!

So why take that option away from Garcia?

"That is something that is more (offensive coordinator) Terry Robiskie's scheme than my playing," Garcia said, while admitting, "There are times when it (the audible) can help the team and save us from a bad situation and put ourselves in a more positive situation. But like I said, it is not a major emphasis here."

Garcia, who didn't audible a great deal while he played for the 49ers, added, ""It is not something that our coaches want to get caught up in doing and changing the whole scheme of things as far as an offense goes. We didn't do a whole lot of it in San Francisco. It was used on occasion. Here, there are probably more times when it can be used, but again it is not emphasized and it not really worked on."

According to head coach Butch Davis, there has been some change in philosophy from last year, when the audible was a part of the game plan. From Davis's comments, one can assume that part of the reason for the change is the fear of creating confusion.

Davis said, "I don't think there is an offensive player in the world that doesn't appreciate the opportunity to go to the line of scrimmage and put his hand down in the dirt, dig his cleats in and say, `I know what this play is going to be' without going up there and thinking about a variety of six to eight different things.

"It gives you a better chance to minimize mental mistakes and theoretically all 11 guys know what the play is. When you audible and change, you run the risk of potentially having nine get it and two don't."

Another big reason why there is no audibilizing is likely because the Browns take so long to get a play called, there simply would be no time for Garcia to change the play even he wanted to.

Far too many times this year, Garcia hasn't even gotten the play until about 15 seconds remain on the play clock, which is ridiculous.

"I don't want to make excuses for anything, but there are situations during game time where I don't feel that there is adequate time to get a play called where we have a situation like we had in Baltimore with a loud crowd," Garcia said, adding, "You have to start limiting your movement on offense. Just get lined up, get on the ball and make the play happen.

"It would help if we are put in better starting points by getting the play in a little quicker. I am not saying that it happens throughout the game, but there are moments when it does happen. It is tough to overcome, especially in visiting stadiums."

Twice in a three-play span midway through the third quarter against the Steelers, Garcia had to waste timeouts as the play clock was about to expire.


Davis says, "We would like to get it (the play call) out a little earlier. We would like to break the huddle at 15 to 17 seconds. Some huddle calls will be quicker than others. A lot of the call and time will be predicated on shifts and motions. You could get to the line with six or seven seconds if you are not going to do any movement."

And there is no thought given to calling an audible.

Which is all you can do when there are as many problems with as many different facets of an offense as the Browns have encountered this year.

The more we see of this offense, the more likely it seems those back-to-back 31-point outbursts by against Cincinnati and Philadelphia were more a result of the opponents' inadequacies on defense than any improvement from the Browns' offense.

When you combine the numerous false starts with the lack of audibles and the inability to get a play called quickly enough, you have big problems … problems which shouldn't happen on the elementary school level, much less in the NFL.

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