Brownlee: Where Do We Go From Here?

The long-time fan contributor to the OBR takes a look at what the Browns need to do next...

If you read this column week in and week out, you know that I like to look at player performances as keys to a game. Look at how each matchup went, and you can see the outcome of the game.

I have no desire to look back at the performance in Baltimore.

This is a team with problems in leadership, with players who aren't performing, and in some cases, with players who are pointing the finger at others when they should be looking deep into the mirror.

The Cleveland Browns are a mess.

With 13 games remaining in the 2008 season, the most important question to ask is, "Can this mess be fixed?" I've tried to imagine being called by Randy Lerner asking for some consulting help to decide where to go from here. I guess my first thought would be to look at what has gone well so far as possible building blocks going forward.

Offense

While there have been problems, the offensive line has done a decent job, especially considering the week-to-week personnel changes. The biggest issues this past week here were mistakes such as jumping offside or stepping on the quarterback's foot. These can be corrected. Kevin Shaffer has had problems from a physical mismatch perspective, but that is hardly a surprise. The line play is not near 2007 levels, but neither is it near 2006 levels.

The running backs did a good job in the game both carrying the ball and in the receiving department. The Browns have not typically thrown to the backs a lot in the current system, but perhaps this is something that should become more a part of the offense.

When actually called upon, Kellen Winslow has been the brightest spot on offense. Steve Heiden gets the job done as well.

Joshua Cribbs was able to get open as a receiver.

Defense

While the defensive line struggle some against the Ravens, it has largely been OK. Of course, Robaire Smith is now out of the picture and that mucks up the planned rotation. In particular, Shaun Rogers has done very well.

D'Qwell Jackson showed signs of life in the last two games. Alex Hall has potential, but the leap from St. Augustine to the pros is a big one. Willie McGinest is making contributions from the bench, perhaps better contributions than on the field. I think Shante Orr has a lot of hustle and potential.

While Eric Wright has struggled, I believe he can turn it around. Brandon McDonald has made good plays, especially since the opener. Brodney Pool is looking like the player the staff thought he could be when he was drafted.

Special Teams

The kicking game is fine. Josh Cribbs needs to get healthy. On the other hand, the coverage teams are having some serious problems.

It's Broke

The Browns have holes, but in the salary cap era, most teams do. While I think the roster has flaws, I also think that the talent on board should be doing more than what we've seen so far.

I think the fixes for this mess have to come at three critical places. All have to do with leadership. Let's start by addressing the quarterback position.

Field General

As I analyze the Derek Anderson era going back to the first Cincinnati game last year, despite the success Anderson enjoyed early in the year, there were signs of trouble almost right from the start. While there is a "go for broke" attitude that can be positive at times, it has caused a lot of trouble. Even in that first start, a terrible pass on the first play after halftime dug the Browns into a serious hole.

Lets run though the rest of the games in 2007 and think about how Anderson did.

  • At Oakland. Interceptions buried the Browns. A Cribbs kick return helped the Browns claw back from 16-0 down. Anderson led an amazing drive to give the Browns a chance to win.
  • Baltimore. The Browns jumped out to a lead and coasted. The big play was a busted coverage by Baltimore that led to Braylon Edwards being wide open. The inability of the Baltimore offense to do much of anything sealed their fate.
  • At New England. The Browns had a chance to grab early momentum, but an interception in the end zone on their first possession really hurt as did the loss of Jamal Lewis on the first play. Interceptions helped the Patriots gain a 20-0 halftime advantage. The Browns were competitive in the second half.
  • Miami. The Browns once again built a big lead, but had problems holding it. The defense struggled. Anderson hit Braylon Edwards for three scores. He was not really open on two of them, but was able to take the ball away from a shorter defender.
  • At St. Louis. The Browns overcame an early 14-0 deficit largely by being able to convert long yardage situations in the second quarter. The Browns were able to overcome penalties that usually kill drives, often because of nice passing by Anderson. Despite having problems running out the clock, the Browns were able to hold on due to a critical stop.
  • Seattle. The Browns fell behind 21-6 right before the half. A special teams gaffe allowed Seattle to build their lead. The offense was able to move the ball throughout the second half and in overtime.
  • At Pittsburgh. The Browns built an early 21-6 lead, but the offense was the beneficiary of short fields more than once. To me, this is when Anderson started to unravel. The Steelers made adjustments and after halftime, the offense could do nothing until a frantic final drive.
  • At Baltimore. The Browns had a 27-13 lead in the second half, but they were aided by a defensive touchdown. An interception allowed the Ravens to get back in the game after the Browns could not get the ball in the end zone while largely dominating the first half. After halftime, the offense was once again stuck. Two late drives allowed the Browns to tie it and win it in overtime. Anderson made some big time throws to set up both field goals.
  • Houston. The Texans had an early lead, but their offense struggled. While the Browns won comfortably, I had the feeling that the offense left plays on the field.
  • At Arizona. The Browns got into a hole with a pick six and some bonehead plays on defense. While Anderson rallied the Browns with the aid of a controversial Edwards touchdown and a furious late drive, it wasn't enough to overcome a poor game otherwise.
  • At NY Jets. The conditions were cold and drizzly, but the Browns had problems moving the ball for much of the game. The result was in doubt until the heroics by Jamal Lewis at the end.
  • Buffalo. Derek Anderson's strong arm allowed the Browns to use the passing game when conventional wisdom said you couldn't. It was a tough day to throw, but Anderson made plays including several acrobatic catches by Edwards. I can't think of another NFL quarterback I'd have wanted to have in this particular situation.
  • At Cincinnati. The hallmark of bad games by Anderson. While the team had its problems overall, Anderson was largely why the Browns lost. He let his problems snowball.
  • San Francisco. The Browns came up with just 20 points. Seven came from special teams. Three more came from a drive led by Brady Quinn. Watching the 49ers, they just wanted to play out the game a go home. There should have been a lot more plays to be made here.

As you look over these performances, you see some patterns. The Browns often got down big, usually due to interceptions or other offensive mistakes, then fought back. Or, the Browns built a big lead and let the other team back in it. In many cases, the defense was unable to stop the other team, but I also think the inability to keep scoring or hold the ball was more of a factor than people want to admit.

Anderson tends to let one mistake take him out of his game. Most of the situations where the Browns got behind were because of multiple interceptions. Many of them were very bad throws, not bad luck with a deflection or that sort of thing. While Anderson hasn't had a lot of help from his receivers, he also hasn't overcome the mistakes around him, either.

While I felt Anderson was clearly better than Quinn in camp, I think it is time to see what Quinn can do. Either he will succeed or he won't. If he doesn't, the season is already in trouble anyway. If he does, well, maybe you've salvaged this year. The only problem is that Anderson may not be able to recover from losing the job. But on the other hand, if you don't get Quinn in the Bengals game, you'll end up potentially throwing him in against the Giants.

Every job should be up for grabs at this point regardless of contract status. If Quinn can do better, let him play.

Taking Offense

I've not said much about Rob Chudzinski, but I agree that play calling has been a problem. The run was working against the Ravens and the Browns abandoned it with lots of time left in the game. Running might have given time for Anderson and the offense to settle down. We've seen games before (at Cincinnati 2007) where there was a stubborn refusal to go away from things that were not working. I like the "pass to set up the run" approach myself, but that isn't working.

Personnel decisions need to be evaluated. I'm in the camp that says Jerome Harrison is a playmaker. Let him play! For that matter, Jason Wright has made some plays as well. Perhaps it's time to experiment with some two back looks. In addition, Lawrence Vickers has shown himself to be a viable option after some receiving problems last year.

I know teams are taking away Winslow. But Steve Heiden is a solid receiver and catches the ball. He might deflect some heat from Winslow. I trust him more than Syndric Steptoe or Steve Sanders at this point.

With Josh Cribbs healthy, why are we sitting on all the trick plays that had been worked on throughout the preseason? Try something.

Finally, there have been way too many mistakes. Learn how to line up and know the snap count.

It's time for the offense to live up to its billing. Doing so would help cover some of the well-documented problems with the defense. I believe it is more likely this area can be significantly improved on the fly.

From The Head Down

I went into plenty of detail in my last installment about the leadership deficiencies Romeo Crennel has shown. He doggedly sticks with situations that don't work (Maurice Carthon, anyone?). But, that being said, I don't know that I would pull the plug just yet. In season moves rarely work out, though there are exceptions.

I do think if there is clear evidence he has lost the team, I would make a move despite the potential pitfalls. Crennel is supposed to be a player's coach. If this is the result we see from players that supposedly love to play for him, there are serious issues. At the very least, it appears to me that there are players who need to be reigned in.

If it were me, I'd be making it clear that my team should never look unprepared to play, should always play to the last down, and that game day decisions should always enhance the team's chance to win.

For that matter, I'd be asking what personnel options are being or have been contemplated. I'd be asking why these options have not come to fruition. But I'm not willing to make a change in this area. Yet.

Bottom Line

To Mr. Lerner, this really is about the bottom line. I know he was very concerned about losing the fans back in 2006. The natives are restless again. The silence from Berea is not good. Someone needs to be saying something to the fans.

Honestly, I've asked myself if it is worth the trip to Cleveland for the Giants game considering it means a day of work for me. A lot of fans come from farther than I do.

Please, Cleveland Browns, give us a reason to care. How about showing us that you do. Stop telling us everything is OK and no moves need to be made. That's just not so. Do something.

We're watching you.

Next Up

The Browns face another team in disarray: the Bengals.

The season is short. Bark hard!

 


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