Cleveland Browns: Gut-Check Season Is Long from over

Derek TalibContributor IIIOctober 12, 2012

Oct 7, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA;  Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson (33) turns up field after reception against New York Giants outside linebacker Michael Boley (59) at MetLife Stadium. New York Giants defeat the Cleveland Browns 41-27. Mandatory Credit: Jim O'Connor-US PRESSWIRE

The Cleveland Browns do not face insurmountable odds going into the rest of the season.

They will not be favored in any games that they play, nor do they deserve to be, but that does not make a difference.

What does make a difference is that each week the team is getting better but seems to keep falling just short. When they improve in one area, they start lacking in another. It is like plugging holes in a leaking boat. This team is talented enough to win and beat anyone they have to play the rest of the season.

Yes, that is right ...I said it. 

This is entirely up to them.

What type of team is this latest incarnation of the Browns?

Cincinnati already played Cleveland and was it not for a special team’s gaffe and a couple of bad breaks, Cleveland could have very easily won that game.

The Eagles actually escaped from the Browns more than they beat them, and in Baltimore they were in position to at least tie the game in the end. Were it not for dropped passes, Cleveland was within striking distance of the heavily favored Ravens.

There is not a team on their schedule, including the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins or Denver Broncos, that the Browns should be shaking in their boots over. 

All the teams, including their divisional opponents, have weaknesses that can be exploited by Cleveland. Another common denominator is many of the remaining teams did not make the playoffs last year. Many of the Browns' remaining opponents belong on the island of misfit toys.

They sound good on paper, but none of them present a team that Cleveland cannot compete with or beat.

Cleveland has shown potential all year and has yet to put together four solid quarters. They have flashed talent, shown home-run potential in spots and even had the Super Bowl champions reeling, if even only for a moment. 

That dreaded word “potential “can rear its ugly head over a confused Browns franchise.

The truth is that Cleveland needs one signature win to start the ball rolling.

The Bengals can provide just the lift the Browns need on their 0-5 season. The Browns have faced their toughest games already, with the exception of the Steelers. They have played Baltimore and Cincinnati away from home and, not only were in both games, could have won them. 

The biggest problem facing Cleveland the rest of the season is not their talent but, instead, their leadership.

If Pat Shurmur can steer the ship right for multiple Sundays, the Browns have more than a fighting chance.  To steer the ship, Shurmur may have to give up the offensive coordinator duties.  He should be on both sides of the ball as the head coach and should be too busy to come up with game plans and to make offensive calls on Sundays.

The fact that he has time to do that makes me wonder what is being neglected in the process of him dipping in, what should be, Brad Childress’ job. What is being overlooked in preparation to play on Sundays?

I truly feel that Shurmur cares and has a plan in his head as to what he wants, but he may be getting in his own way at this point.

What happens if the Browns turn their season around?

What if the light suddenly goes on and they quit hurting themselves with bad play calls, penalties and dropped passes? What if Brandon Weeden can go a game without throwing a touchdown pass to the other team's defense?

The Browns can win, not next year but right now.

This season is not over, and they have been in position to win some games. 

If the team does not quit on Shurmur and realize they have talent, the Cleveland Browns can surprise a lot of people. They play in a division where three teams made the playoffs last season. The Bengals are going to face a team with nothing to lose and a coach that is in a must-win situation the rest of the season.

Cleveland can still potentially go 8-8 or even 9-7, barring injuries, just as easily as 0-16 or 3-13.

Youth is not an excuse for the bad play calling, simple mental errors or poor game planning. Nobody knows who this latest version of the Cleveland Browns are, any more than Romeo Crennel, or Butch Davis led teams.

We can see what the Browns used to be just by watching the Ravens play, but with multiple changes in the front office, coaching and player types, neither fans nor players can get a sense of what they really are or are trying to become.

The team has to almost ignore the coach and set their own agenda for excellence.

Pat Shurmur does not know how to turn a team around, as he has never done it as a head coach.  There is not a player in that locker room that knows if Pat Shurmur, Tom Heckert or Mike Holmgren will be there next year, but what they do know is they have a game on Sunday against a divisional opponent.

They know that two of their first-round draft picks are not used to losing and do not want it to continue. They know that Phil Dawson and D’Qwell Jackson have suffered long enough and don’t care who the coaches or front office are, because the players are ultimately responsible for the wins or losses. 

They know that they are the ones who can put the flag in the ground and say “NO MORE!"

I have been on and coached teams that have been at this type of crossroad, and coaches cannot pull you out of it. At some point, the guys wearing the helmets will have to ultimately decide what the rest of the season is going to look like. Are they going to have that “here we go again” mentality, or are they going to start punching teams in the mouth and play AFC North football on both sides of the ball?

Giving it the old college try is not good enough in Cleveland, and I have a suspicion that the team will fight back.

For Browns fans and players alike, the season is not over and there is a lot of football yet to be played.

The Brown players are tired of hearing “hang in there “ and “keep your head up” from opposing teams that just added a “W”  to their record upon leaving the field. The Cleveland Browns are not looking for pity or pats on the head. They are looking for their swagger, and that can only be found by winning and winning consistently.

I believe that this team has enough talent to be effective now, not next year. No more "when we get a receiver" or "we are a linebacker or cornerback away" talk.

Win with who is on that 53 man roster right now, not next year. High drama awaits the Cleveland Browns latest installment, and I will be interested to see if they accept the challenge to step up.