Wrong-Way Browns' '09 Struggles Continue

As the Browns continue their slide into historical ineptness, Steve King takes a look at how a suspect draft combined with a suspect offensive system has created this current mess...

The Browns are heading the wrong way – literally and figuratively – in so many instances.

And that's obviously not good.

First and foremost, they continue to go the wrong way in the standings. Following last Sunday's 16-7 setback to the Cincinnati Bengals, extending their losing streak to six games, they're 1-10 and cemented in last place in the AFC North and, if the season ended right now, they would share the worst record in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and St. Louis Rams.

This marks the first time in team history they've been 1-10, and their 1-16 mark dating back to last season is the worst they've ever had over 17 games.

At 0-4 with four home games left, beginning with Sunday's visit by the San Diego Chargers, they're in jeopardy of going winless in Cleveland for just the second time in team history, and the first since the 1999 expansion season, when they were 0-8.

If the Browns lose out overall – both at home and on the road -- then they'll finish the season with a franchise-worst 1-15 mark, beating the 2-14 record of 1999. For weeks now, the comparisons have been made between this team, the one 10 years ago and the 2000 club, which was 3-13 but really faded in the second half of the season, as to which one is the worst in Browns history.

Offensively, they will no doubt set some team marks for futility, and maybe even some NFL records as well.

In terms of their player procurement, they're also going the wrong way. While three picks in the 2009 NFL Draft – two second-rounders in wide receiver Brian Robiskie and linebacker David Veikune, and cornerback Coye Francis, a sixth-rounder – have now been made inactive for two straight games, the Browns are signing players off the street during the week and then using them in the games on Sunday ahead of that trio.

If you're Browns owner Randy Lerner, while you have to be pleased that the team is finding talent at the bottom of the food chain, at the same time you have to be scratching your head as to what's going on in the draft. The Browns spent bundles of time, energy and, most importantly, money to scout last spring's draftable players, such as Robiskie, Veikune and Francies, and to have them get beaten out, so to speak, by street free agents is an indictment of the both team's scouting and coaching methods.

If those three players weren't very good to start with, then it makes the draft process looks bad. And if they're indeed as good as the Browns thought they were when they drafted them, then they're obviously not being developed properly and taught the NFL game, which makes the coaching suspect.

One way or the other, the Browns' system of finding players is broken. It's backward. If the Browns are going to scour the neighborhoods for players, then they don't need to be spending a king's ransom to fly people to Florida, Texas, Alabama, USC and other far-away places to evaluate college talent.

Along with all this, the Browns' offensive scheme, specifically the passing game, is going the wrong way.  It's going horizontally instead of vertically, making it ineffective and hard to watch.

By constantly throwing two- and three-yard passes into the flat, the Browns aren't stretching the field. As such, they're not getting defenders out of the box. Knowing the Browns won't throw deep, defenses are crowding the line of scrimmage, making it almost impossible for the offense to find open room with which to work.

Yes, we understand that teams are blitzing the Browns a lot, forcing quarterback Brady Quinn to make hot reads and get rid of the ball quickly. And that results in a lot of short, or shorter, passes having to be thrown.

But you still have to at least try to throw the ball downfield from time to time to make those defenses think twice about creeping into the box, and if that means keeping extra people in to block so that those routes have time to develop, then so be it.

The NFL, with the way it has written its rules over the last 30 years, is built for teams to score points. And when you can't score points, you have no chance to win. It's even worse if you don't even try to do the things necessary to score points. There's no award given out for keeping the margin of defeat down. Throw the ball downfield. Take some chances. Try to win the game. And if it results in a few more interceptions and a few more points given up, then who cares?

To be sure, the Browns defense is bad, but it's clearly – clearly – better than the offense, and the defensive scheme is eons better than the one on offense. Yes, as they say, defense wins championships, but no defense, no matter how good it is, can keep playing 35 to 40 minutes a game, game after game, without eventually breaking down.

So while it's essential for the Browns to bolster themselves defensively in the offseason, it's even more essential – much more so – that they bolster themselves offensively.

But this isn't just the problem of the present Browns coaching regime. For the most part during the entire expansion era, the defense has not been very good but at least has played well enough to keep the club competitive on most Sundays. However, you can count on two hands – with some fingers left over – the number of times the offense has done its part in this equation.

Nonetheless, the Browns, in all aspects of their team and organization, have to get everybody and everything moving together in the same direction. And that direction has to be upward, forward, vertically and through the front door – the draft – not the back one.

Until they do, these struggles will continue.

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