Commentary: Changes are in Order

Why was Qadry Ismail was laughing at the Browns during the second half of Sunday's game? The answer lies with the decisions made by the team, and forms the basis for David Carducci's hard-hitting commentary this morning.<BR><BR><I>David's game report appears courtesy of the Ravenna Record-Courier</I>

CLEVELAND - Why did the Cleveland Browns self-destruct, blow a big lead to the Indianapolis Colts and watch their playoff hopes slide down the drain?

The targets for blame are obvious.

There is rookie receiver Andre Davis, who dropped the fourth-down pass in the end zone to seal the Browns' fate in the closing seconds.

The fashionable scapegoat is always quarterback Tim Couch, never mind the fact that he tossed a pair of long touchdowns, authored a fine game that lead to an impressive 105.3 quarterback rating and put the Browns in position to pull it out at the end.

Then there is the Jekyll-and-Hyde defense that is more troubled than either of R.L. Stevenson's famous characters. One half the Browns confuse and frustrate one of the league's most potent offenses, the next they sit back and passively watch as Peyton Manning picks them apart.

The fans and sports talk show hosts who love to question the usual suspects have plenty of ammo for the coming week, but in the Browns locker room there are other questions being asked. The answers to those questions could be an indictment of Butch Davis and his coaching staff.

Quincy Morgan sat in front of his locker after Sunday's loss, shaking his head and wondering why he disappeared from the offensive gameplan after opening the game with a 78-yard touchdown grab that put the second-year receiver's size, speed and athleticism on display. Those same qualities might have been useful on at least one of the Browns' four shots at the end zone from the 10-yard line in the final seconds.

Morgan said he was brought to Cleveland for his potential to make plays in the red zone, yet he was used as a decoy on the game's most crucial play.

On the other side of the locker room, Corey Fuller slammed a clothes hanger against a wall, complaining that the Browns had lost "because we played stupid defense" in the second half.

The defense was a passive zone that the Colts saw as a complete joke. According to Fuller, Colts receiver Qadry Ismail couldn't contain his laughter on the field after watching tight end Joe Dean Davenport streak un-covered through the middle of the zone on a big third down play in the fourth quarter. Davenport easily pulled in a 22-yard pass at the Browns 7 setting up a touchdown that cut the Browns lead to 23-21.

According to Fuller, the Browns' defensive scheme had turned a Colts' joke into a star. Ismail confided through his snickering that "that guy never catches anything."

The zone also invited the Colts' real stars to shine. When Marvin Harrison lined up opposite Fuller later in the fourth quarter, his eyes grew wide as he watched Fuller back off the line of scrimmage. Harrison frantically started waving his arms to alert his quarterback, knowing he would be left all alone on a short crossing pattern through the soft middle of the Browns' zone. Manning hit Harrison for the simplest 46-yard pass play to the Browns' 10, setting up what would be the game-winning touchdown.

Fuller wasn't the only frustrated player in the Cleveland locker room. The Browns have offensive playmakers who want a chance to make plays. They have defensive players who want to attack and be aggressive. The schemes are sapping the players of those instincts.

The Browns have tried to copy the in vogue defense of the day, adapting a zone, often cover-two, that relies on the front four to generate its own natural pressure. It makes sense for Butch Davis to have high expectations for his defensive linemen, considering the Browns have huge investments in first-round picks Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren and big-money free agents Kenard Lang and Orpheus Roye.

Brown didn't play Sunday because of a knee injury, but all season long, that front four has struggled to pressure the quarterback. When they couldn't put heat on Manning Sunday, he picked the Browns apart, just like so many other quarterbacks before him.

The obvious conclusion is defensive coordinator Foge Fazio and defensive line coach Ray Hamilton have not been able to harness the talents of a defensive line that was once believed to be the Browns' most valuable property.

The Browns' offensive inconsistencies encourage questions about offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. If Davis makes some changes in his coaching staff this offseason, it is unlikely that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians would be among them. Giving up on Arians going into next season would mean subjecting Tim Couch to his third offensive system.

Arians is also a young coach who still has yet to establish a track record. He could yet grow as a coordinator. How much better can the Browns expect the 63-year-old Fazio - a 15-year NFL coaching veteran - to get?

Several other repeated lapses lead to even more questions regarding the coaching staff. Week in and week out, the Browns suffer from key special-teams penalties, poor handling of the sideline leading to the failure of plays and personnel packages getting to the field in a timely fashion, and a lack of discipline resulting in numerous, costly procedural penalties.

All of these failures are a reflection of the Browns' coaching staff.

Just how much Davis' assistants are responsible is also in question. Davis is known as a micromanager who craves control over every aspect regarding his team.

After last season, Davis kept his staff relatively intact, making a change only with the team's strength and conditioning coach. If the Browns are to take the next step towards being a playoff contender, changes are in order after this season.


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