Browns owner Randy Lerner said he will wait until the end of the season to decide the fate of his beleaguered head coach, Romeo Crennel. Lerner's decision to wait until January means Crennel is safe beyond Sunday when the Browns host the Colts.
The Browns are 4-7, three games off their pace after 11 games last season. They finished 10-6 last year and entered 2008 with high hopes, but those hopes crashed before September ended when the Browns started 0-3.
Players in the locker room support Crennel. The Browns are 24-35 under his leadership.
"That's not my call," center Hank Fraley said when asked whether Crennel's job should be on the line. "Romeo is a great coach. I love him as a coach. I have a good relationship with him. Guys around the locker room do.
"I know when you're not winning, the head coach gets pointed at first. He's a good coach to play for. It's disappointing we're not performing for him. The coaches get you to Sunday, and then it's up to you to produce. They're not the ones making the blocks, making the catches, making the runs and making the tackles."
Strong safety Sean Jones was drafted by Butch Davis in 2004. He spent the season on injured reserve. His first season on the active roster was 2005, also Crennel's first season. Jones does not want to go through another coaching turnover, although as a free agent next winter he might be elsewhere in 2009.
"We're going to do everything we can to fight for Romeo," Jones said. "We have to play as a team. We have to hold up our end on defense and others have to do their job."
Special teams star Joshua Cribbs said players should blame themselves for not living up to potential.
"No one can give us the ultimate advice, the ultimate lecture to help us physically win the football game," he said. "We have to do that ourselves. We have to look ourselves in the mirror, not the coaches. They can say 'It was my fault, this and that,' but it's our fault as a team. That's why we have to stick together as a team."
Crennel appreciates the support, but he says his players have it all wrong.
"They are incorrect because I'm the head coach and the buck stops at my desk," Crennel said. "It is my charge. If we don't win games, it's on me. We have coaches who work very hard to try to get a good plan, try to put it out there and try to get the guys to execute.
"When the team doesn't play well, it falls on the head coach. Just like when the offense doesn't do well, a lot of times it falls on the quarterback, rightly or wrongly. In this position, the scrutiny goes with it."
This is the 10th season of the expansion era, and Crennel is the Browns' third head coach. After Sunday he will be the longest tenured coach the Browns have had since Bill Belichick lasted five seasons from 1991-1995. Butch Davis coached three seasons and 11 games and then quit. Chris Palmer was fired after two seasons.
SERIES HISTORY: 25th regular-season meeting. Browns lead, 13-11. The Browns hold the series edge, but they have beaten the Colts only once in seven games since 1992 when they won 21-14 in 1994. The Browns beat the Colts six straight times between 1978 and 1986. Cleveland has never beaten Indianapolis since the Colts drafted Peyton Manning. Manning is 4-0 against them, but in the last two meetings it was the Browns' offense that disappointed. The Colts won the season opener in Cleveland, 9-6, in 2003 and 13-6 in Indianapolis in 2005. Manning was 17 of 43 for 211 yards and two interceptions in the 2003 game. He was 19 of 23 for 228 yards and an interception in 2005.
--The 39-yard field goal Phil Dawson missed against the Texans was his first misfire inside 50 yards this season. He is 21 of 22 inside 50 and three of five beyond 50 yards.
--The Browns have been Team Streak this season. They lost their first three and then won three out of four to creep back to a 3-4 record. Since then they have lost three out of four to fall to 4-7. Unless they win at least four of their last five games, they will finish with their eighth losing season in 10 years back in the NFL.
--WR Braylon Edwards has dropped 17 passes this season. He dropped a touchdown pass against the Cowboys in the opener, a touchdown pass against the Ravens on Nov. 2 and a touchdown pass against the Texans last week.
"There are definitely plays that can and should be made by me," Edwards said. "I'm just not making those plays. I don't know what it is. I don't know what's going on.
"I'm not worried about what outside people say. I'm not worried about what (the media) says. I don't what it is, but I have to go somewhere and get my head together."
--The Browns are concerned with the numerous offensive interference penalties on tight end Kellen Winslow this season. He was called for one in the Houston game, wiping out a 12-yard completion to Winslow to the Texans 15. At least half of Winslow's interference calls have been on passes to other players.
"We've been talking with Kellen," Crennel said. "A lot of times, defenders try to hang onto him and make it tough for him to get into his route. We've been working with him about not extending his arms because he's out in the open. That's what they see and that's what they call."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm hurting right now because I love to play the game. I wish I could be with my teammates. I feel bad for the fans because I really wanted to be out there and continue to play and continue to grow in this league." -- QB Brady Quinn, on being out for the year with a finger injury.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Derek Anderson is back as starting quarterback after three games on the bench. Brady Quinn fractured the index finger on his throwing (right) hand Nov. 17 in Buffalo. He also damaged a tendon on the play when he banged his hand on a Buffalo player's helmet. Quinn is contemplating surgery, but even if he decides against it he will not play again this season.
The Browns were 3-5 when Anderson was benched. He has thrown nine touchdown passes and seven interceptions.
Anderson took over for Quinn with 14 seconds left in the third quarter against Houston. He was five of 14 for 51 yards in the 16-6 loss. He hadn't taken a snap with the first team since being benched on Nov. 3. He is able to take all the first-team snaps this week.
--FB Charles Ali did not practice on Wednesday because he has a fractured rib.
--S Sean Jones missed practice because of a sore ankle. The Browns are hopeful he can play against the Colts.
--NT Shaun Rogers rested on Wednesday with nagging shoulder and neck soreness.
--FB Lawrence Vickers missed practice with a sore ankle.
--TE Kellen Winslow was limited in practice with a shoulder injury. He played with the injury against the Texans and expects to play against the Colts.
GAME PLAN: The Browns have to find a way to help cornerback Brandon McDonald. He expects Peyton Manning to throw deep on him because he has been beaten on long touchdown passes in three of the last four games.
One way to keep the ball out of Manning's hands would be to run the ball and grind out the clock. The forecast for Sunday in Cleveland calls for a high of 39 degrees with 40 percent chance of snow showers. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski has been getting criticism from Jamal Lewis for not calling more running plays. Lewis could get 20 opportunities on Sunday.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Browns LT Joe Thomas vs. Colts DE Dwight Freeney. Thomas had his hands full last week when he faced Houston DE Mario Williams. Williams is 6-foot-7 and nearly 300 pounds. Freeney is smaller at 6-foot-2, 265 pounds, but he is very quick and has seven sacks. Thomas is athletic and usually plays well against the quick ends.
Browns DB Terry Cousin vs. Colts WR Anthony Gonzalez. The Colts move Gonzalez around, but he is most effective in the slot. That puts him against Cousin. Cousin still has to have good coverage skills but he does not always stay with his receiver. Gonzalez has caught 46 passes, three of them for touchdowns.
INJURY IMPACT: Several key players are limping and sore, but most expect to play against the Colts. The exception is Brady Quinn. Coach Romeo Crennel decided Quinn gave the Browns a better chance to win when he decided to bench Derek Anderson after a 37-27 loss to the Ravens. Now Anderson is the starter again by default.