Miami Dolphins Coach Nick Saban got into some trouble last week when he openly said that wins and losses, and game day decisions don't mean a thing this year, because the whole purpose of this, his first season, is to see which players will be part of the Dolphins future.
I am sure that Dolphin season ticket holders might not have liked hearing that, but they probably wouldn't like hearing lies either. Saban was absolutely correct in his statements, and they should hold true for the Cleveland Browns, also, although no one in a position of authority would admit it.
On one hand, it is clear that Browns coach Romeo Crennel wants to win more games than the Browns won last year, four, which was tied after the first ten games of the season. That was a realistic goal, which will probably be met, but, more probably, is the reason that Trent Dilfer is still the starting quarterback of this team.
On the other hand, the Browns know they can't compete right now with the Bengals or Steelers in their division. They need to find a core of players on both sides of the ball who will be able to compete in the next year or two, and this year's final record has nothing to do with that attempt. In fact, in the long run, it might be better that the Browns current record of 4-7 is not reversed, so the front office is not deceived about how far they have to go.
That being said, I think it is fair to bring up some criticism about an area of concern. We all knew that there would be growing pains with a new head coach and new offensive coordinator, along with new players at key offensive positions, Dilfer, Reuben Droughns, and Braylon Edwards. That may explain some of the mis-communications on the field, but it doesn't explain a couple of major mis-communications off the field.
There is no excuse for the way the first half ended in the Pittsburgh game a couple of weeks ago. After a change of possession at what appeared to be the end of the half, one second was put back on the game clock, with the Browns having the ball on their own 48 yard line. Much of the team was already in the tunnel on the way to the locker room. The Browns, despite having three timeouts left, ran a play without two of their starting linemen, and a total mixup in the huddle. The goal line is reachable on a Hail Mary pass from 52 yards away, but the Browns let the opportunity slip away. A timeout HAD to be called in that situation.
There is also no excuse for what happened in the last 42 seconds of Sunday's loss to the Minnesota Vikings. After a first down at the Vikings 5 yard line, with one timeout left, the Browns, after two illegal procedure penalties against wide receivers, managed to only get off one play, an incomplete pass, prior to settling for a Phil Dawson field goal. As a result, the Browns trailed at the half, 10-3, instead of, possibly, 10-7.
The blame goes all around, but, in order, it goes to Crennel, Offensive Coordinator Maurice Carthon, and, finally, QB Trent Dilfer.
The team practices the two-minute drill all of the time. There HAS to be a specific play to run from the five-yard line, unless the coach wants the ball to be spiked. If nothing else, the QB can come up to the line of scrimmage and scream out a play. In the confusion, the offense could dare the defense to stop them. And, if they did, they could have used their last timeout (unless there was an incompleted pass to stop the clock), and take a couple of shots into the end zone.
Finally, if Dilfer saw ‘deer-in-the-headlights' on the sideline, or didn't get a play called into his helmet, he should have taken over and spiked the ball into the ground, giving time for everyone to gather their thoughts. With all of the possibilities that could have taken place, the one that did take place was probably the worst possible scenario, other than allowing the clock to totally run out.
Watching the coaching staff and players respond to pressure situations this year is more important than wins or losses right now. Nick Saban was right, and Romeo Crennel probably would agree. The Browns front office has some evaluating to do in the off-season, but among the questions that need to be asked during the evaluation are ones that involve the lack of clock management in the two cases illustrated above. That is more fixable than the ability to find quality players for this team in the future.
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