I can still see it. The Browns on the 5-yard line against the Carolina Panthers. Charlie Frye taking the snap, pitching the ball to fullback Lawrence Vickers who then proceeds to throw the ball into the endzone and into the hands of a Panthers’ defender.
Maurice Carthon’s most infamous play call and the defining moment of his short offensive coordinating career.
Three years later, it appears the Browns could be going through the same agonizing experience with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
The Browns are ranked near the bottom of the NFL in nearly every offensive category through the first two games of the season.
The rankings are as follows: 30th in points (13.0), 32nd in total yards (234.0), 28th in passing yards (162.5) and 27th in rushing yards (71.5).
In 2005, Carthon’s first season, the Browns ranked 32nd in points (14.5) and 26th in total yards (284.4).
The blame can be spread to a number of individuals—the offensive line, the receivers and the quarterback. However, the offensive coordinator is the one calling the plays and viewers can almost see what’s coming every play. A two-yard run on first down, an incomplete pass on second down and on third down, just throw everything including the kitchen sink at quarterback Brady Quinn. Punt.
Like Carthon, Daboll is in his first year as an offensive playcaller. He hasn’t called a play as ridiculous as the Vickers pass, but you know it’s coming.
They are also taking a lot of heat from the fan base and media for conservative playcalling, however, it could be the personnel that is on the field that is preventing more aggressive plays. The opposition knows Quinn has a tendency to check down instead of taking risks downfield, so the safeties don't have to play deep.
They also know Braylon Edwards is hesitant about going over the middle to grab a pass which makes him vulnerable in that area.
Then there is the offensive line, specifically the right side. Floyd Womack is proving that is a backup at best and John St. Clair should consider himself lucky to be considered a second-string lineman. It’s no wonder the Chicago Bears didn’t shed a tear when they lost him this past offseason.
Let’s talk more about Daboll and his questionable offensive approach. I saw no adjustments to the playcalling in the second game after he knew that the offense had limitations. Try a three-step drop from Quinn and slants to Edwards and Furrey? If you know the right side of the line can’t buy the quarterback more than three seconds, tweak the offense.
When I look at defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, I see a coach who clearly knows what he’s doing and is playing to win. Daboll is playing not to lose and it shows. When you can’t punch the football into the endzone from inside the 10-yard line and have to settle for a field goal, that says a lot.
Ryan, on the other hand, brings blitzes from various spots on the field and puts his defense in position to make plays. It’s not his fault his unit is on the field for 40 minutes a game because the offense goes three-and-out nearly every possession. The team was down 17-13 in the third quarter against Minnesota and were also trailing by seven points going into the fourth quarter last week against Denver. Hardly out of reach to come back from, but with this offense, it is.
How are you supposed to defend the opposing offense on a 1st-and-goal from the 4-yard line when your offense botches a snap and turns the ball over on the second drive of the game?
Clearly there needs to be adjustments to the right side of the line. Don’t be surprised if you see Hank Fraley at right guard for Womack, who happened to injure his ankle in the Denver game. Right tackle is even more challenging. The Browns don’t have many options besides St. Clair right now. Maybe a healthy Rex Hadnot, who played some tackle with the Dolphins could move to right tackle when he comes back. I don’t think throwing an undrafted free agent in Phil Trautwein to face Terrell Suggs is the right alternative. They may have to put either Robert Royal or Steve Heiden on the right side to help St. Clair this Sunday.
I will say this—the Josh Cribbs experiment at receiver needs to end. His skills are better utilized on special teams. Can Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie be that much worse? Mike Furrey has five catches for 30 yards (six yards per reception) in two games.
Fans must keep this in mind, however. After Carthon resigned in 2006, the Browns hired Rob Chudzinski from the San Diego Chargers as offensive coordinator. He knew Charlie Frye wasn’t the right quarterback to run his big-play offense, so the front office traded Frye after the first week of the 2007 season. In came Derek Anderson and he went on to make the Pro Bowl.
A similar scenario could play out after this year as well. Maybe Quinn isn’t the right quarterback, maybe he is. For right now, Daboll needs to figure out how to get this offense rolling.