Eric Hartz: It's been an exciting season in Cleveland, but mostly for the wrong reasons. The Browns have struggled on the field and had plenty of distractions off of it. You've been following the team closely. Do you think Romeo Crennel survives to coach the team next year?
Barry McBride: It's been a hugely disappointing season for the Browns, who were expected to return to prominence and Super Bowl contention for the first time in nearly 20 years. The season has collapsed spectacularly, and the coach and team's quarterback have been the focus of discontent.
It's unlikely that Crennel returns in 2009. The team's lack of success this season can't be entirely traced to him, although some in the media have certainly tried to make Crennel the scapegoat for the vast majority of the team's problems.
The Browns have faced a far more difficult season in 2008 than their easy schedule the previous campaign, and they haven't had the good fortune with injuries they enjoyed last year. Many of the issues the team has faced are tied to their personnel either being injured or not playing as well as last season. At the same time, Crennel's decisions on personnel and defensive scheme have left him open to question, and the team appears unfocused and undisciplined. It's clearly time for a different voice.
Recent comments by owner Randy Lerner and GM Phil Savage make it clear that the team will re-evaluate their coaching staff and front office during the off-season. Savage's job is in danger as well, but Lerner does not appear set to make any decisions until January.
EH: Brady Quinn looked like a bright spot since taking over for Derek Anderson. Now, however, Quinn's season is over and Anderson's back in charge. What does he need to do to get back to playing like the Derek Anderson of 2007 and not 2008?
BM: Derek Anderson is largely still the same quarterback he was in college. He's big, has a rocket arm, and doesn't dwell on mistakes. He also tends to spray the ball all over the field.
In order to be successful, the immobile Anderson relies on good protection so that he can wait until the last possible second to release the ball, and his primary targets (Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow) need to be at the top of their game, making Anderson look better by taking the ball away from defenders. Anderson actually began struggling in the latter half of the 2007 season as opposing clubs learned how to better defend against the Cleveland attack, and his slide accelerated in 2008.
One of the reasons that he has struggled is that his surrounding cast is not playing at the same high level as last year. A key receiver, Joe Jurevicius, is not available to pull coverage from Edwards, and save drives with clutch third-down catches.
The pass protection hasn't been as good, and Jamal Lewis looks a half-step slower than last year. The team's investment in WR Donte Stallworth has been a complete misfire. When Edwards does get the ball, he's been dropping it with regularity. Anderson is simply not a good enough quarterback to compensate when the offensive unit slips.
Regretfully, I don't see Anderson being able to return to his success in early 2007. He will be unlikely to ever get that combination of a finely tuned offense around him, an easy schedule, and defenses unaware of his tendencies again. The NFL will give plenty of second chances to quarterbacks with any track record of success, but, in my opinion, Anderson needs to be put in a very good situation to excel.
EH: Certainly, the highlight of the season in Cleveland has to be the 35-14 win over the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. What, specifically, did the Browns do so well in that game that has been missing for much of the rest of the season? Or was it just one of those games where everything came together at the same time? Why hasn't the team been able to reach that level of play again?
BM: The Browns-Giants game looks like an aberration, although Peyton Manning's concern is legitimate in that it shows what the Browns have the talent to do when everything falls their way.
The background that many NFL fans may not know is that the Browns-Giants played in preseason. The thrashing the Giants delivered early in that game turned out to be a huge eye-opener for the Browns. Over a brief span in the first half, the furious Giants pass rush made mincemeat out of the Browns offensive line and left Derek Anderson staggering off the field with a concussion. It took them weeks to recover, and truly set a tone that has carried over into the regular season.
When they faced the Giants again, the Browns had that game very much in their memory. They were focused and executed at a level we have yet to see at any other point this season. Cleveland also had the good fortune to be coming off a bye week and were fully rested and healthy. They seemed more motivated than we've seen them all this year. The Giants, meanwhile, based on their recent success and pre-season pasting of the Browns, seemed like they were coasting until the Browns had them well in the rear-view mirror.
For one game, the Cleveland Browns executed in every phase of the game, while the Giants appeared unfocused. While it's possible that the Browns could return to that level of play as the season concludes, the combination of health, motivation, and a seemingly over-confident opponent are unlikely to re-appear.