Passan: Time to End It

Rich Passan has seen a lot of head coaches come and go during his time as a Plain Dealer writer and radio commentator. He feels it's time for another change, as the veteran writer argues that the Crennel era needs to come to an end...

Romeo Crennel just doesn't get it. And he's dragging the Cleveland Browns down in the process.

The Browns' coach, who trundled one gigantic step closer to the exit door Thursday night in Pittsburgh, is not head coaching material.

Now whether Randy Lerner and Phil Savage finally figure that out and nudge him through that door sooner rather than later is another matter.

If Lerner and Savage don't see that Crennel is not the answer, they are just as culpable as their coach. If they don't dismiss him at the end of the season, they deserve everything that follows.

How many more times does this team need to be embarrassed for the front office to do something? Lerner and Savage can boost Crennel all they want with votes of confidence. Those words ring hollow.

If the Cincinnati blowout loss a couple of weeks ago "sickened" Lerner, one can only imagine how the owner felt after Thursday night.

The Browns team that took the field against the archrival Pittsburgh Steelers was as ready to play football as Custer was to do battle at Little Big Horn.

It is now more than apparent than ever that Crennel doesn't know the meaning of the word "rivalry." His shameful record of 1-10 against the AFC North in his 29-game head-coaching career screams that fact.

Say all you want about Butch Davis' failures with the Browns, but you can't say he didn't understand the club's rivalries. He always fielded well-prepared teams against division opponents. He was 10-14 (not including postseason) and that included two overtime losses against Pittsburgh.

For the first time in the team's often-glorious history, the Browns face the very real prospect this season of losing every game in their division. Going 0-for-the-AFC North is a virtual certainty when they visit Baltimore a week from Sunday.

How much more punishment must the fans endure before Lerner and Savage see that the coaching road they travel with Crennel is littered with failure?

How else can one explain the humiliation that unfolded Thursday night against a Steelers team missing its starting wide receivers and starting safeties? Against a Steelers team that has struggled most of the season?

That improbable victory over Kansas City last Sunday? Forget it. Given what took place at Heinz Field, it was rendered meaningless.

You build blocks on top of victories. What the Browns built on top of that victory was a landslide.

Crennel said his team would be ready for the no-huddle offense the Steelers used to beat the Browns a few weeks ago. No need for the no-huddle. Not with a running game that amassed an amazing 300-plus yards.

Turns out Crennel's team was ready for nothing against the Steelers.

The Browns came out and did everything but kowtow to the Steelers, who schooled them in every phase of the game. The 5-7 Steelers made the 4-8 Browns look like rank amateurs.They were the beach bully and the Browns were the 98-pound weakling who had sand kicked in their face.

"They didn't want to be here," said Steelers linebacker Joey Porter, who understands the meaning of a rivalry and trips the emotional trigger for his team. "They checked out pretty early. They want this to be a rivalry, but it can't be if we keep whuppin' 'em like that."

He gets it. Crennel and his men don't.

The Steelers live and die by the run. A little more than two weeks ago, they rushed for only 21 yards and died in Baltimore. Couldn't score a point.

Thursday night, the Browns made Willie Parker look like LaDainian Tomlinson. "We couldn't stop them, we couldn't tackle them," a shell-shocked Crennel said after his team gave up more than 300 yards on the ground. "That's not run defense. . . .

"It's disappointing. I can't explain it. I don't know why it happened, but it did. . . . We were beat. That's what it was. We got beat. All right?"

No, it's not all right. And what do you mean you can't explain it? If you can't explain it, then who can? Someone's got to be held accountable.

The defense, which has now surrendered 109 points in the last 14 quarters, has collapsed. Nothing is working.

The Browns can't stop the run. They have no pass rush. The secondary has been torched for 10 touchdowns in the last three and a half games. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's star has fallen dramatically.

The Steelers' offensive line made the Browns' front seven on defense look like a bunch of collegians. Second- and third-team wide receivers shredded the secondary.

The only Cleveland bright spot was quarterback Derek Anderson. And why did it take a wrist injury to Charlie Frye to unearth this guy?

In the six-plus quarters we've seen him in the last two games, Anderson has shown qualities of the position that Frye wishes he had.

Did anyone notice that the Steelers didn't get close enough to Anderson to check out what kind of deodorant he was using? And no, it wasn't because of great blocking by the offensive line.

No sacks, no knockdowns, no hurries. They barely touched him. When was the last time Browns fans saw that out of one of their quarterbacks?

Kevin Shaffer, Joe Andruzzi/Lennie Friedman, Hank Fraley, Cosey Coleman and Kelly Butler didn't suddenly transform into the best offensive line in the National Football League overnight.

Their pass protection was no different than it usually is for Frye. The big difference is that Anderson gets rid of the ball faster, a lot faster, making the line look good.

He displayed much more poise than Frye in the pocket, did not look confused, made the correct reads and the ball was usually gone in less than four seconds. And on the rare occasion when the Steelers got too close, he stepped up in the pocket. What a novel concept.

Bottom line: He made plays that Frye has struggled with almost all season.

Outside of a late third-quarter flat-footed floater that was picked off and a second-quarter fumble after gaining a first down, Anderson more than acquitted himself against the notoriously aggressive Pittsburgh defense in his first start as a pro.

The Steelers threw a lot at the slim youngster and he handled it well. They tried blitzing him, but backed off at times when they saw how quickly the ball left his hand.

If he hadn't been betrayed by at least seven drops (Dennis Northcutt should have been stapled to the bench after the first of his three drops), Anderson would have completed nearly 30 passes for around 400 yards. The Browns still would have lost because their running game was, once again, nothing more than a dream.

It might be a tad early to say, but it's beginning to look as though the Browns might finally have a good quarterback. And his name is not Frye.

Steve Mariucci, Deion Sanders and Marshall Faulk of the NFL Network all saw it and acknowledged how well Anderson played in defeat.

Jamie Dukes, the seriously corpulent NFL Network analyst, put it best: "If it's me, the Charlie Frye experiment is over."

Now, Lerner and Savage should go back into their laboratory, put their head coach under the microscope one final time and arrive at the same conclusion: The Romeo Crennel era in Cleveland should become a bad memory.

It's time to free up Crennel so he can do what he does best: Coordinate the defense for the New England Patriots. Where he can wind up back under the protective tent of Bill Belichick and not be exposed for what he really is: An incompetent head coach.

It's time to bring in a fresh, young, energetic and creative head coach to get this club moving in the right direction. The Steelers did that twice in the last 37 years and it has paid off with five Super Bowl championships.

It's time for the Browns to make a positive step in that direction.

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