If the Browns find themselves in a hole against the Broncos on Sunday, can Pat Shurmur keep them from giving up?
Forget for a moment the high likelihood that Cleveland Browns head coach Pat Shurmur will likely not have that job title in 10 days' time. Even if he is just two games away from his ouster, there's a lot to be said about his time with the Browns, and it could all be summed up this Sunday when his team takes on the playoff-bound Denver Broncos.
The Browns would need to play to the very best of their collective abilities to stop the Broncos on Sunday. The Peyton Manning-led offense ranks fifth overall in yards per game and second in points, while their defense ranks fourth in yards allowed and is second in sacks with 42.
This is the best, most difficult team Cleveland has had to face all season long, and it's not breaking new ground to say that their odds of winning on Sunday are low.
However, this seeming fact cannot permeate the minds of the Browns players. The Browns cannot look to this meeting against the Broncos and see inevitable defeat—and if they do, it will be the latest and biggest of Shurmur's failings this season.
It's not as though the Browns cannot give the Broncos a fight. Shutting down the run game, for example, can make Denver one-dimensional. Though it's not the most ideal strategy to force Manning to win on his arm alone, the Browns will be more prepared to stop Denver when they know what they're most likely to face.
However, the main concern in this game is to make sure every member of the Browns' roster, from quarterback Brandon Weeden on down, keep their minds turned toward winning and fighting, no matter how large the points deficit may get. This is a chance for Shurmur to prove that he is indeed a leader—a quality that has come under question numerous times this season.
A team isn't only judged on how many wins they put up or how they handle winning, but also how they handle the difficult losses. Though the Browns under Shurmur are no stranger to losing games, they haven't stared down a foe as formidable as the Broncos—who are on a nine-game win streak and clinched the AFC West weeks ago—this season.
And now that the Browns have no miracle postseason berth to fight for and are on the verge of a major upheaval, it's easier to just give up against the Broncos rather than play their best game of the season. It's Shurmur's job to make sure his players do not stop competing on Sunday, even though they may all know that Shurmur is, after this, one game away from potentially being done in Cleveland.
Shurmur's legacy in Cleveland will amount to more than what happens on the field this Sunday, but his ability to keep his team focused and committed to play this game from start to finish is one particularly important moment for his tenure as the Browns' head coach. It speaks to how well his players respond to his coaching, how they view him as their figurehead and what kind of future he will have in the league.