Someone with more reason than a Browns fan to be optimistic might tell you that you learn something new every day. In the aftermath of the disaster that was the Buffalo game, I've desperately tried to take something positive from the rubble - some ray of hope or lesson learned, however small.
Alas, it seems all one can get from the loss to the Bills is confirmation that the Browns have a nasty habit of dropping games to opponents they should soundly defeat. Not something that bodes well going into a game against Cincinnati, another team that the Browns should, at least in theory, have no trouble beating.
So with nothing positive to take out of the loss in Buffalo, it seems a good time to reflect on what we've learned this season on a large scale, and examine the following issues which Mike Holmgren and company ought to examine in an effort to begin devising a strategy for what needs to change going forward in order to help the Browns improve for the rest of the season and beyond.
It seems like almost every time the Browns lose, we're all scratching our heads about something (or several somethings) that Brian Daboll did during the course of the game.
Whether it's playcalling or clock management, behind every loss seems to be Daboll flubbing some bone-headed decision that any idiot could make, like running in a situation when a pass is obviously the way to go and vice versa.
Rob Ryan should be guaranteed job security for his tremendous work this season and Eric Mangini's continued employment is decidedly a fence issue, but Daboll should have been sent packing weeks ago.
The Browns just faced the worst run defense in the league in Buffalo, and the Bills weren't fooled by anything we did.
Help wanted: Someone with some shred of skill at offensive playcalling. Your services are no longer needed, Mr. Daboll.
Maybe they're more morning people than night owls, or maybe they just didn't run enough laps during camp, but for whatever reason, this team always seems to look dynamic and energetic in the first half but look like they got hit with a tranquilizer dart on the B-side of the game.
I get it, everyone gets tired after playing more than 30 minutes of football, but the second-half Browns move around the field like they're running through quicksand, heavily sedated and carrying several hippopotamuses on each of their backs.
I don't know if the answer is to be more creative about substitutions, to focus more on endurance work in practice or just to do a better job motivating the players late in the game to keep their spirits up, but I'm tired of watching a team that spends the second half of a good portion of their games playing like they each took a handful of Lunesta at halftime.
Before we even get into the issue of fumbles, I'll qualify this one by saying I'm not interested in coming down on Peyton Hillis. Yes, he's part of the fumble problem for the team, but he's also one of the few people who nearly always contributes and does pretty much everything else right. When we're 10-6, I'll start griping about Hillis' ball-carrying mishaps.
No one else will get this special dispensation though. Cribbs, Stuckey, Delhomme, I don't care. Unless you're going to make up for it with the rest of your performance, learn to hang onto the ball.
Fumbles have cost this team games this season, and Holmgren (or perhaps this is more of an issue Mangini should deal with) has to figure out how to cure the fumble-itis plaguing this team.
It was all flowers and rainbows for a few weeks there while Colt McCoy was leading the team, but there's nothing anyone can do about the unfortunate timing of his injury, and I emphatically agree with the team's decision not to rush him back.
At long last though, Mangini has officially given word that McCoy will be the starter for the remainder of the season. I can't imagine that will change again this season or next, unless of course McCoy is injured again. The only remaining question is, who will be McCoy's backup?
I feel bad for Delhomme, really. He's not a bad guy and his failures aren't for lack of trying. As frustrating as it is to watch Delhomme blunder around out there like this whole football thing is new to him, it isn't his fault that he's simply too old to do the job.
But does this mean he should still be the backup? A lot of that depends on Seneca Wallace's health, but what's more difficult to determine is whether a still-ailing Wallace is a better option than whatever Delhomme has left in the tank. With McCoy still not truly at 100 percent (he was reportedly still limping slightly yesterday), the Browns have to have a good idea of their backup plan for the remainder of the season.
If Wallace isn't up to playing yet, then Holmgren needs to at least look at having Joshua Cribbs take more snaps out of the wildcat formation to take at least some of the pressure off of Delhomme.
After their first drive in Buffalo, the Browns were at fourth-and-one at the goal line and chose to kick a field goal rather than go for it. Had they gone for it and gotten the touchdown there, it may have completely changed the outcome of the game.
I'm not advocating the Browns adopt a Sean Payton-style of kamikaze playcalling when they don't have the weapons to do it, but they need to learn when it's appropriate to take calculated risks. Conservative football is almost never successful, and it certainly doesn't work when your team isn't good enough to win without taking a couple of fliers during a game.
Yes, they might not have gotten the touchdown in the above situation, but they would have left Buffalo on their own one yard line. They would have given their opponent worse field position than one would on 99 percent of punts, and that three points should not have seemed enough to make a difference (and tada! It wasn't), especially that early in the game.
Mike Holmgren is a more innovative guy than that decision would indicate. I'll assume that this (and the too-conservative calls like it made in similar situations) were Mangini's decisions, but Holmgren should not allow such a play-it-safe approach to be used for his team. Sometimes you have to jump to see what it feels like to fall, and Holmgren knows better than to cower on the ledge in a situation like that rather than to make the leap.
I hate to quibble with Rob Ryan's defense, but there is one issue that he and Holmgren need to address: The Browns do a great job of pressuring the quarterback, but they don't always do very well at following through on it and actually laying the guy out.
The most obviously example is of course the Jets game, where the slippery Mark Sanchez was under pressure and nearly tackled over and over, yet somehow stayed on his feet almost every time. Obviously not every attempt to rush the quarterback has to end in a sack, but it does have to at least result in forcing him to make a mistake even if he stays on his feet for it to be considered a success.
Ryan and Holmgren need to change their strategy for blitzing since the current one isn't doing the job. Their defensive playcalling allows their squad to penetrate opponents' offensive lines and pressure the quarterback, but then the bottom falls out. If you rush the quarterback but don't take him down, all you're doing is tying up too many defenders and chasing him around in vain, thus creating more holes for the ballcarrier behind you.
Among all the other problems that the Browns need to solve, the million dollar question remains: What will become of Eric Mangini?
It's perhaps the most difficult and important change that Holmgren will have to decide whether or not to make.
I firmly believe that at this juncture and given the Browns' performance thus far, there is absolutely no reason to let Mangini go before the season ends. After the season, well, that may be a different story.
It's difficult to say what Holmgren should do. I'm not sure that firing Mangini is necessary, but whether it's the best option may depend on who Holmgren is able to get a hold of as a potential replacement.
It isn't just a matter of whether there's someone available who is a proven winner; they also have to fit in with the mentality and strategy this team was built on. The foundation is there for success, as has been proven this season, so there's no need to bring in someone who will overhaul the system to fit their strategy. Obviously, we want to bring in a coach with a track record of success, but we also need it to be someone who fits in with how the Browns have been molded thus far and the approach they employ.
Whether or not Mangini will be the best available candidate remains to be seen, but Mike Holmgren is going to have some serious thinking to do on this front after the season comes to a close.
None of this, of course, addresses the fact that the coaches (Daboll and the rest of the offensive coaching staff in particular) need to get more opponent-specific in their game plan going into Cincinnati and versus Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the coming weeks.
But these large scale issues need to be addressed throughout the remainder of the season and 2011 if Holmgren wants to take the Browns to the next level and turn them into a viable contender.
Clearly, many of these issues can't be resolved before the 2010 season comes to a close, but they will ALL have to be addressed before 2011 if the Browns hope to be in postseason contention next year.