Longtime Reboot reader Berlin-T pretty much sums up what I was feeling last night:
For the first two games I thought, who are these guys?
Last night against the Eagles while they were driving down to the 2 yard line I kept asking this question. However after they got to the 2 yard line I had sudden premonition that the coming play or plays would determine who these guys really are and how their season will turn out. And then – there they were! – my old Brownies of the last 13 years. They hadn’t deserted me after all. Ah the comfort of familiarity!
I’ll take it a step further.
During this same drive, I had the following thoughts:
1) I like how Shurmur is mixing up the formations. 3 Wide Receivers, followed by 2 tight ends. Also, 3 step drops and 5 step drops.
2) Like others mentioned, Josh Gordon looked like a legitimate target. On the first long pass, I never realized just how “big and long” of a target he is.
3) Weeden was showing some serious zip on his passes – particularly on the somewhat ill-advised sideline throw to Massaquoi.
4) The offensive line adjusted to the Eagles’ Wide-End defense by setting up nice slashing run lanes.
5) As the Browns entered the Eagles’ red zone, I was really thinking about how negative I’ve been regarding Shurmur over the past few weeks. Maybe the Browns’ young head coach is capable of more than just basic competency. Who knows – with the right quarterback….and more time….
And then another f–ing Screen Pass after another f–ing Penalty!
And then all those old thoughts crept back in.
1) So far, this offensive line can’t handle pressure. Granted, the Eagles have a quick front four and play a quirky scheme – but both Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz were beaten on the outside. Then, all three interior blockers – Mack, Pinkston and Lauvao – struggled with holding calls and false starts.
Although this was at least funny.
2) This is a huge problem, as so far the Browns have three games on tape in which Weeden has struggled against both basic pass rushes and blitzes. Say what you will about Weeden’s arm (a cannon), but the rookie QB is about as mobile as Derek Anderson.
3) And for the thousandth time, if Shurmur and his 38 assistants eventually realize that the Browns’ wide receivers are not getting open, then the offense needs to become a more quick drop, quick read, quick pass offense. Otherwise, Thaddeus Lewis becomes the Browns’ backup QB.
4) Although I greatly hoped that Schwartz would alleviate the need for constant two-tight end sets, it’s looking like Alex Smith will reprise his 2011 role in 2012. It was nice seeing you on the field, Jordan Cameron.
5) On a similar note, Weeden can make throws that other NFL QB’s cannot – such as the sideline laser to Massaquoi. However, it’s clear that Weeden’s baseline instinct is to gun passes into tight spaces, which will be a problem in the regular season.
6) Be it injury or now a fumbling problem, the Browns cannot count on Montario Hardesty as a feature running back. And with the dubious start to Trent Richardson’s NFL career, this is a huge issue. We’ve seen what happens to Shurmur’s offense when the Browns can’t run the ball (most of 2011). Now throw in a rookie QB, WR and RT into the mix and cover your eyes.
7) And again, all this because of a screen…after a penalty.
8) Although this helps….at least a little.
9) And if you want to call it progress, or some bastard form of evolution, it’s worth noting that Shurmur called a quick flat route to Brandon Jackson later in the first half on a similar 2nd and Long. The play gathered maybe three yards, but at least didn’t completely destroy the game.
Seriously, this is progress. This is what it currently means to be a Browns’ fan:
I hope that our young Head Coach doesn’t yet again call a screen pass that doesn’t work and completely alters the direction of the game, leading to an insurmountable shift of football time and space.
10) Some of you reading this are probably thinking, “this guy just needs to be patient.” Sure, I still have patience – but honestly, the purity of such a thing started to erode during the Bills and Lions games in 2009. Right now, I will just say that if Shurmur calls ANOTHER 2nd and Long screen pass during one of the first few regular season games, then I will know that he is the most overmatched and unimaginative offensive play callers in Browns’ history.
Anyway, one more gripe about Shurmur – the HEAD COACH, not the offensive play caller.
Again, hardly any of us know much about Shurmur from a pure football standpoint. Obviously, he coached quarterbacks for a long time and is now entering his fourth year of calling offensive plays. Certainly along the way, Shurmur picked up some great knowledge regarding football in general – the kind of expertise needed for a coach to see the entirety of a team, including all phases of a given game.
In this respect, Shurmur has to see that penalties, procedural mistakes and missed assignments are crippling both his offense and special teams. Creativity, experience, desire and/or belief in a system means nothing if a team still cannot execute basic blocking assignments.
Yet again, the Browns’ offensive line missed key blocking assignments, which led to fumbles, unnecessary quarterback hits, busted runs and the unfortunate 2nd and Long situations previously lamented. On Special Teams, a punt was blocked – which is something that hardly ever happens in today’s NFL.
Before Shurmur can even begin to comment on a young wide receiver’s work ethic or a cornerback playing rough, he – as a HEAD COACH – needs to either personally correct these issues or ensure that his coaches are doing so. Otherwise, Shurmur’s team will be in a hole all season – and all the precision West Coast passing routes in the world will not do a thing to help.
Finally, let me state this. I am not wholeheartedly a part of the small pro-Mangini contingent of Browns fans. Admittedly, I admired Mangini for being a smart coach who preached discipline when the Browns needed it most. However, I also feel that Mangini achieved many of his team-first goals by stripping the Browns of the kind of athleticism needed to compete in the NFL.
But, this is a story for another time.
The point here is that Mangini did not parade an overly athletic team, but at least presented one that didn’t continually shoot themselves in the feet with repetitive penalties or miss basic assignments that led to crippling, blown plays. Now, as to where a Mangini-led Browns team would be today is a question that likely doesn’t have a positive answer.
However, as for today’s team, last night was a striking indicator of just where Shurmur’s Browns are. Yes, the Head Coach is young and the team is young. There is obviously some exciting talent on the Browns’ roster, but right now it’s really difficult to see it past the dumb penalties, dumb mistakes and dumb play calls.
For anyone who still questions my motives on critiquing Shurmur, last night provided the best evidence. However, this is also a great launching point for Shurmur to show that he’s worthy of being an NFL Head Coach.
Oh, right – I forgot about the positives.
1) Josh Gordon was much improved. If he learns to position his body, he can be a top-20 receiver in the league.
2) Weeden has a gun. But much like Derek Anderson, he needs to learn that he doesn’t always have to use it.
3) When he’s not getting flagged twice on one drive, Jason Pinkston has shown that he is at another physical level this season.
4) We forgot about him, but Jordan Norwood is probably still the Browns’ most sure-handed receiver.
5) Billy Winn and James Michael Johnson are exactly what the Browns needed in terms of changing to athletic norm of the defense. Once JMJ gets better against the run, the Browns projected (mid-season) lineup of Johnson-Jackson-Maiava looks a little better.
6) A few times last night it looked like Sheldon Brown was playing in a Rob Ryan defense. Whatever happened to safety help? Oh, wait – positive stuff. Sorry.
7) When his punts aren’t getting blocked, Reggie Hodges is a huge upgrade over Brad Maynard and the guy who got cut….what’s his name?
8) Brandon Jackson ran like his job was on the line last night. And assuming Richardson is indeed healthy, it’s possible that it was.
9) Colt McCoy is showing that he’s an ideal backup QB. And considering what the O-Line has shown, he’s worth a lot more than a 5th round pick. Or, here’s an idea – why not just keep him? When’s the last time a Browns’ QB started 16 games?
10) If my Eaglization of Cleveland hypothesis has any merit, maybe it’s possible that the Browns’ defense will be as fast as the one the Eagles presented last night.
Much more later and Sunday. Let me know what you think.