Another season is almost in the books for the Cleveland Browns. As always, with the conclusion of every losing season here, it seems the perennial talks of blowing up the team and starting over has begun to heat up up.
While it's obvious that the highly-respected President and General Manager are in no danger, the holdover Coaching staff is the group on the hot seat this year. It's natural to speculate that perhaps Mike Holmgren would want to bring in "his own guys" now that Eric Mangini has turned in two consecutive losing seasons, but is it the best move for the franchise?
Eric Mangini's mentor, Bill Belichick was at one time a Cleveland Browns head coach. During his tenure in Cleveland he compiled a 36–44 record, before leading the team to the playoffs in 1994. In Belichick's last season in Cleveland the Browns finished 5–11. Now look at where he is, this is a coaching system that takes time to settle in.
Taking a look at the team as a whole, the system is clearly working here, while simply at a slower pace than desired for Cleveland fans. Think about the fact that Cleveland had the No. 3 ranked toughest schedule in the league this year and are still 5-9. Now also think about the fact that we lost three of those games by nine points.
With a couple decent play-makers to step up at the end, those games could have swung our way, making us 8-6 and in Playoff contention right now. Or let's say Hillis held onto the ball on those three fumbles against Buffalo and we actually scored? 9-5. And well we're at it, Stuckey doesn't fumble on the 32 yard line in overtime versus the Jets? Dawson is clutch from 40 yards, now we're 10-4 and tied for the division lead.
That's how quick it could have changed.
Just last season, Special Teams coach Brad Seely was in charge of the No. 1 unit in the league. This season he has had to do it with an injured return-man in Joshua Cribbs, without his lead blocker in Jerome Harrison, and also without special teams' aces Blake Constanzo and Kaluka Maiva who are out for the season.
What about the defense? The defense is 10th in overall fewest points allowed with 19.4, 16th in passing yards allowed with 222.6, and 25th in rushing yards allowed with 129.2. Keep in mind that those rushing stats have plummeted without former 2010 tackling leader Scott Fujita, as well as being without 2008 leading tackler D'Qwell Jackson in the middle of the field.
The weak point here seems to be the offense, which is still statistically better in every category than in 2008 or 2009, even with two games still to be played. The improvement is there, as should be expected with a second-year offensive coordinator, but is it fast enough for President Holmgren and a rabid win-starved fan base?
If anybody should be on the hot seat, it should be Brian Daboll, not Eric Mangini. Replacing a young offensive coordinator may, or may not be, the best idea. If it needs to be done though, there is no need to look outside of the organization, Senior Adviser Gil Haskell is more than capable if need be.
Continuity builds franchises.
My point seems to be that we're just missing the handful of impact players that you can count on when the game is on the line. Colt McCoy is a smart, intelligent quarterback who knows how to win, but when you need a touchdown, who is the receiver you count on? Mohammed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie, Joshua Cribbs? Nobody that you would bet the rent on.
The locker room no longer throws punches and they are playing for each other. The foundation is there, but they only keep it winnable, they aren't the ones who are going to win it in the final few minutes. Keeping a progressing coaching staff is key for this off-season, as well as adding free agents, and having another solid draft will shape this franchise for years to come.
Imagine the interception parade that Joe Haden will have with another solid corner back on the other side. The hits that TJ Ward will lay out after careless throws by a pressured quarterback are lobbed down field. The touchdown catches made by a competent receiver in the end-zone from a Colt McCoy pass. Peyton Hillis running behind Joe Thomas on one side, and a stout right tackle on the other side.
Stay the course Cleveland, there are brighter days ahead.
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