Many fans of the Cleveland Browns are understandably confused and troubled with the start of the season by this team. Issues surround a team that won ten-games a season ago: inconsistency, failure to execute, and a QB that blows hot and cold
Head coach Romeo Crennel gets the blame for most of the issues, as he should, being the man responsible for anything occurring on the playing field. With Crennel, what you see and hear is what you get -- he is a players coach, although he will lay down the Law of Crennel when he deems appropriate.
Throughout the early stages of the season, speculation surfaced that the head coach could be fired, that the head coach lost the team, that the QB should be replaced and TE Kellen Winslow was a detriment to the team.
As I have talked with numerous players on the Browns roster, it's become apparent that most of the above concerns aren't felt in the locker room. Players defend Crennel, with the vast majority noting that the players put this team in the position it is in today. Sure, Crennel is a players coach and lets veteran leadership help police this locker room; but he also depends on players to conduct themselves as men, as leaders and faces of the Cleveland Browns organization.
Often this season, I have pondered the moves -- or lack thereof -- by the head coach during games. I don't claim to have the expertise of the head coach, but I will still question his moves and probably will continue to do so as my level of patience doesn't match Crennel's.
After listening to the head coach discuss aspects of the game following a win or loss, I often come away thinking that he really didn't disclose anything. Dealing with the media is a part of his job that he would obviously change if he could; he'd probably prefer it if we did not exist.
Crennel has talked of the inconsistency and execution issues which hamper the Browns offense, but he refuses to throw players under the bus who have not performed to his ability or expectation. The head coach claims the offense is getting closer; if some facets of the unit did things a little better or made better decisions, we wouldn't be talking about problems.
In some cases I agree with the head coach, as the offense would just miss on making a play or executing. On other occasions, I simply took his talk as empty coach-speak.
After having the opportunity to review a significant amount of detailed footage of the Browns offense, I have a somewhat differing view of where this offense is, and especially where fault lies. From this angle, I see an offense that is pressing to make plays. I see a QB that needs reassurance and time in the pocket to be productive. I see a QB that is trying to be perfect and limit mistakes. The latter is a significant issue as doesn't reflect the type of quarterback Derek Anderson is or should be.
An offensive scheme or coach can only work with the tools provided; making Anderson into anything other than the type of QB that aggressively attacks and creates the threat of big-play potential is a grave injustice to the player. This is not to say the coaching staff has done this, but rather this QB feels the pressure of making mistakes and has reeled-in his best quality: the mentality of a gunslinger with near-reckless abandon.
This is an offense without an identity, without a characteristic to hang its hat on and ride. Derek Anderson is not the type of player that will carry a team; he can, though, be effective with all the surrounding elements working as one.
I had the privilege of seeing how 22 plays are drawn up for execution and then to see the reality of the play in game conditions. In some of the instances, a block came late, was missed or the RB did not get to the hole or the correct hole in a timely manner as the play was drawn up. The dropping of passes by receivers with considerable open field in front of them has been an issue as well. In other cases, the QB did not see the receiver clearing a CB or S, or has a running back drop a pass in the flat with blockers in front of the play. In other cases the ball was thrown poorly.
The lack of quality execution is the difference in a 3-4 team compared to a 6-1 team.
A total of five executed plays and the Browns of today would be sitting atop the AFC North division, despite all the injury, inconsistency and execution issues.
Much of the Browns offensive success in the 2007 season was based on the unexpected. Teams did not have sufficient tape of Anderson and the Rob Chudzinski offense to strategically game plan an effective means to derail the exciting Cleveland offense. As the season progressed, the strengths and weaknesses of the Browns offense and its players were exposed and teams became successful in limiting what the unit could do.
In comparing tape of the 2007 season, when the team was strong offensively, to tape of this present team, it's clear that the scheme of the offense has not changed drastically; the execution, confidence and demeanor of those players on the field, however, has.
What was clear and present a season ago was the confidence and execution that has been missing on a consistent basis in the 2008 season, as well as a viable and dependable receiver in the intermediate zones on third down and a legitimate second receiver in the base sets.
Losing WR Joe Jurevicius this season due to knee-related issues, as well as starter Donte Stallworth missing the majority of five games due to a quad injury, has been very detrimental to the growth and success of this Cleveland offense.
Jurevicius was dependable, he ran solid routes and found the soft spot in the zone to keep the chains moving. Anderson has great confidence in this WR and the offense has not found a sufficient means to fill this vital role.
Stallworth came to Cleveland as a threat as a #2 WR; his speed and quickness is expected to clear safeties from the spot and provide opportunities in the vertical game as well as the intermediate passing game.
With nine games remaining on the schedule, the Browns are far from being out of the playoff race. We only need to look back to the Monday night performance against the New York Giants to see what this Browns team is capable of. Late in the game against the Cincinnati Bengals and for portions of other games -- most recently against the Jacksonville Jaguars -- one can see what this offense is capable of.
Heading into a home contest against division-rival Baltimore, Anderson still concerns me; the lack of consistency and discipline puzzles me, but I see this Browns team slowly melding together just in time to keep the hopes alive.
Kind of like how this season has played out between the head coach of the team and the QB: just enough hope to keep from pulling the plug.
This coming Sunday, this Browns team should live for another week at the expense of a division opponent and one Browns fans love to despise.