At the outset, I will point out that if Josh Gordon catches that 3rd-and-1 deep pass, the Browns probably win the game and a lot of this discussion is muted for another week.
But unfortunately for Pat Shurmur, Gordon dropped the pass, the Colts won the game, and the pressure is back on the Browns’ head coach.
The fact is that, barring a miraculous turnaround to the season, Shurmur has almost no chance of keeping his job after the season. While I’m certainly not rooting for Pat Shurmur to lose his job, I also don’t see any scenario where he’s employed by the Cleveland Browns in 2013.
I have long been a member of the “give him a chance” camp when it comes to coaches and players who fans get fed up with and want to run out of town every couple of years. More often than not, continuity is the key to success in most sports franchises.
There are a bevy of excuses that could be made as an argument to keep Shurmur. Many coaches, most notably the greatest coach of the past 20 years, Bill Belichick, struggled to win games in their first couple seasons as a head coach.
There’s also the fact that Shurmur had no offseason going into his first year in 2011. Others will point out that he has a very young and inexperienced team, including rookie starters at QB, RB, WR, and LB.
But that’s all that those are—excuses, and nothing more.
It’s the argument for Colt McCoy all over again: he has no receivers, a bad offensive line, no running game, bad play-calling, blah blah blah.
After a while the excuses don’t hold enough weight, and you need some tangible reasons why he should keep his job.
What does Shurmur have to plead his case?
Unfortunately for him, every week more and more evidence gets mounted for the other side.
This week it was throwing long on 2nd- and 3rd-and-1, only to punt the ball on fourth down; not going for the two-point conversion after the second touchdown, forcing them into a situation where they needed more than a field goal to extend the game late; and then there’s the fact that they gave up 148 rushing yards to the 22nd-ranked rushing offense in the NFL, and only ran the ball 17 times for 55 yards against the 26th-ranked rushing defense in the NFL. (Those rankings are after the game; they obviously improved several spots because they played the Browns.)
I get no joy out of this. I really do want Pat Shurmur to be a good coach. But the facts are the facts, and this past Sunday he got out-coached by an interim head coach.
And if Jimmy Haslam’s reactions during the game are any indication, he’s not very high on his head coach either. Can you blame him? If I’d just paid a cool billion dollars for a team, I wouldn’t be too thrilled that my coach who has a 5-18 career record and doesn’t have the balls to go for it on 4th-and-1.
It also doesn't bode well for Shurmur that Mike Holmgren, the man who brought him to Cleveland, didn't give him a vote of confidence during his farewell press conference this past week. If the only guy who thought he was worthy of being a head coach isn't willing to plead his case anymore, then how can anyone?
Enough negativity, let’s hit the Week 8 lines!
(Don't forget that when gambling using my picks you do so at your own risk. The home teams are in CAPS and the lines are from SportsBook.com.)
BROWNS (+3) over Chargers
Initially I had very little confidence in the Browns' chances in this game. I thought about the pass defense and then about Phillip Rivers and it seemed like it could be a long day for the Cleveland defense.
But one thing that Rivers and the Chargers have done this season is turn over the football. Coincidentally, the Browns defense has been opportunistic in forcing turnovers. If Rivers struggles to make good decisions, he will keep the Browns in this game.
I'm a little worried about the Browns offense, mostly because Shurmur is in charge. The Chargers have the second-best rushing defense in the NFL. If Shurmur wasn't willing to run the ball against a terrible rushing defense, then I shudder to think what he'll do against a very good one. If Trent Richardson is out, we could be looking at carries in the single digits, which is not a winning strategy in my humble opinion.
The win for the Browns this week will likely fall on Brandon Weeden out-dueling Rivers in a shootout. I'm not very optimistic about Cleveland's chances.
With all that said, I don't feel great about the pick, but they are a home underdog, and I've picked the Browns for every game this season, so why stop now?
RAMS (+7) over Patriots
It’s pretty obvious at this point that there’s something wrong with the mighty Patriots. The general public still carries the opinion that it’s the same old juggernaut that we’ve seen for the past decade. The problem is that they just aren’t performing like an elite team anymore.
I went against my better judgment last week and layed 10 points with the Patriots over the Jets, and they ended up needing overtime just to get the win.
I don’t know if it’s Tom Brady getting old, Belichick losing his magic touch, just a bad defense, or a combination of them all, but the Patriots aren’t blowing out teams like they used to.
They're still winning—it’s just not as easy anymore.
Colts (+3.5) over TITANS
I’m worried about taking the Colts on the road, especially considering how bad they performed the last time they were away from Indianapolis two weeks ago. But I’ll hold to the philosophy that there are some teams that just aren’t good enough to give more than a field goal.
The Titans have won some surprising games this year which looked more impressive when they happened (at home against the Steelers and Lions) than they do now. They rank near the bottom of league in almost all offensive and defensive categories. Even against a weak Colts team, the Titans shouldn’t be giving more than three points.
Jaguars (+15.5) over PACKERS
Jacksonville is on the road against a Green Bay team that is really starting to click offensively, and they are without Maurice Jones-Drew and likely Blaine Gabbert as well. But it’s 15.5 points! I’d have to be crazy to lay that many points, right?
Moving on before I change my mind…
Falcons (+2) over EAGLES
While I’m still on record and of the belief that the Falcons really aren’t that great, I don’t see any reason in the world why the Eagles should be favored in this game. It makes zero sense to me.
The Eagles are a mediocre team at best who just lost their last game at home to the Lions, who aren’t very good either.
So why again are they favored?
LIONS (-2) over Seahawks
Speaking of the Lions…
They just haven’t impressed this year at all. Matthew Stafford has yet to throw a TD in the first half of any of their six games thus far. They still put up a bunch of yards and their defense has been respectable, so they should be better than they've shown.
The Seahawks don’t often play well on the road, and it will be especially tough coming from the West coast to play a 1:00 game. I feel like this could be a good game for the Lions to break out of their funk.
JETS (-2.5) over Dolphins
I really don’t want to justify in print why I’m taking the Jets (a team with a below-average QB, virtually no running game and no wide receivers) to cover the spread as a favorite. But after giving the Patriots a run for their money last week they have to beat the Dolphins at home, right?
Panthers (+7.5) over BEARS
There a lot of reasons to like the Bears in this game. They’re playing great football right now and are maybe one of the best teams in the NFL. They have an outstanding defense that will likely give Cam Newton a rough day. And the Panthers are not a good team.
On the other hand, the Bears offense hasn’t been great and doesn’t really put teams away. They kept the Lions in the game last week and failed to cover the spread.
I feel great if I’m picking the Bears to win this game straight up. But I’m not very comfortable picking this Bears offense to cover more than a touchdown.
Redskins (+4.5) over STEELERS
Easiest pick of the week, and I think the Redskins win this game handily.
This Redskins team is a prefect example of a lot of what I’ve been preaching with regard to building the Browns over the past couple of years. I was all in favor of trading that boat-load of picks for Robert Griffin III. I’d still do it, in fact.
When you look at the talent that is surrounding Griffin in Washington, it’s really not any better than what we have in Cleveland. The four leading receivers on the Redskins are Fred Davis (now out for the season), Santana Moss (12-year veteran who was terrible a season ago), Leonard Hankerson (had a grand total of 13 receptions last year) and Josh Morgan (has only had more than 45 catches once in his five-year career).
It's the quarterback who makes the receiver, not the other way around.
And then there's running back Alfred Morris, rookie sixth-round draft pick out of Florida Atlantic. Morris is averaging 4.8 yards per carry, 94.0 yards per game, and has five TDs. If you compared that production with a player who is only averaging 3.4 yards per carry and 49.7 yards per game, it would seem simple to argue who the better player is, right?
Now I would never argue in a million years that Alfred Morris is a better running back than Trent Richardson. But you can't argue with the production. And that's the way it is with running backs in the NFL. They need so much to really help their team win.
They need an offensive line to provide good blocking and set up running lanes. They also need a reliable passing game to move the ball consistently and keep the defense honest. And they also have a propensity to get injured with the many hits as they take every game.
Just ask Maurice Jones-Drew what it's like not having a good passing game to support him. You can have the best running back that the world has ever seen, but if he doesn't have adequate support, he won't help you win. And in Jones-Drew's case he won't be helping out the Jags for a while, now that he's out with sprained foot.
This is why I argued way back before the draft that I'd rather give up three first-round picks for a great QB than keep them and spend one on a running back. History has shown us that you can get adequate production out of a late-round or undrafted running back as you can from a guy that goes in the first round.
Not to mention that you have to go back about a decade before you can find a Super Bowl-winning team that had an offense centered around their running back.
I wish that Trent Richardson wasn't banged up. I wish the Browns had an offensive line that was better at run-blocking. And I wish that the Browns had made that RG3 trade. Because it's a lot easier to win consistently in the NFL with a strong passing game than it is to win with a strong running game.
The most important player to the future success of the Browns isn't Richardson, it's Weeden.
Wait, are we still picking games?
CHIEFS (-1) over Raiders
I'll be completely honest, I have no desire to break down these two teams.
Giants (-2.5) over COWBOYS
It's a very tough decision to pick against the home underdog, but I'm doing it in this case. I really feel like the Giants are playing the best football in the NFL at the moment. That offense is really clicking and is going to be tough to stop.
The Cowboys meanwhile haven't been great (they needed a fourth quarter comeback to beat the Panthers last week). I know that Dallas won in New York in that opening game of the season, but I also know that the Giants have never lost in the new Cowboys Stadium.
It should be a close game, and I have the Giants by a score.
Saints (+6) over BRONCOS
I've been a little critical of the Saints being favored the past couple of weeks, considering their record, but they are now riding a two-game winning streak and they're getting six points, so you have to like that.
The crazy thing about the Saints is that, literally, the only thing they do well is pass the ball. That's all they can do. New Orleans ranks 32nd, 30th and 31st in offensive rushing, defensive passing and defensive rushing, respectively. But they rank 1st in the NFL in offensive passing at 335.2 yards per game.
This game screams "shootout" to me, and anytime there's a shootout it's a good rule of thumb to take the points.
CARDINALS (+7) over 49ers
Alex Smith against John Skelton—should be a good old fashioned "suck off" on Monday night.
Both of these teams have good defenses with very suspect offenses. I don't feel confident in Smith and the 49ers to lay that many points. Plus, there's the home underdog factor to take into consideration.
To be honest, I really don't have much of a desire to watch this game. Could be the night to switch over to the World Series.
Last week: 7-5
You can follow Benjamin Flack on Twitter @ClevelandFlack.