Pointing Fingers: How Many Ya Got?

The CoopCorrespondent ISeptember 16, 2008

Those fans in the greater Cleveland and Pittsburgh areas that didn’t experience a power outage during Sunday night’s 10-6 Steeler victory over the Browns watched what will come to be known as one of the most memorable games in the teams’ storied rivalry. 


Unfortunately, this comes as no consolation for Browns fans, who are left angry and searching for answers after watching their team start the season 0-2.


However, the quest for answers has developed into more of a blame-game than anything else. And, as is often the case, most of the fingers (and I’m not just talking about index fingers) are being emphatically pointed at Head Coach Romeo Crennel.


While the defense took most of the heat after the opening-day loss to Dallas, there was a small faction who blamed Crennel for the team appearing to be emotionally “flat” and unprepared.


This small faction has quickly become an increasingly large army after Crennel failed to get his first victory over Pittsburgh in over three seasons as the Browns’ head coach, making several questionable judgments along the way.


To make matters worse, Sunday’s defeat marked the 10th consecutive loss to the Browns’ hated rival. In their anger and frustration, almost everyone seems to blame Crennel for all of the team’s struggles, some even going as far as to call for his job.


Let me be abundantly clear: Romeo Crennel should not be fired. Does that mean he shouldn’t accept a little bit of the blame for the Browns’ disappointing start? Of course not. His election to kick a field goal while trailing the Cowboys by 21 points in the fourth quarter was a head-scratcher to be sure, though ultimately inconsequential to the game’s result.


His clock management at the end of both halves against the Steelers seemed extremely disorganized to say the least. But even these decisions pale in comparison to his election to once again opt for a field goal, down 10-3 with less than four minutes to play.


The offense was having rare success moving the ball down the field on their own (i.e., without the aid of Steeler penalties), converting on three third downs in a row, and they had the Steelers’ defense on its heels.


Nevertheless, after the Browns failed to convert the fourth consecutive third down, Crennel sent out Mr. Automatic, Phil Dawson, to get the sure three points. Even though some so-called experts, such as John Madden, agreed with Romeo, the decision severely lacked the “nothing-to-lose” attitude that I implored Crennel to possess in my pregame article that we as fans deserve from our team.


But even with these less-than-admirable decisions, are they really reason enough to get rid of a guy who was 10-6 last year and re-energized a city desperate for a winner? At least publicly, the players are still behind their coach.


Ahhh, yes...The players.


At what point do these guys deserve some, if not the majority, of the blame for the performance in the last two games? Trust me, when you’re 0-2, there is plenty of blame to go around. 


For starters, Derek Anderson has been horrible and looks more like the guy who couldn’t hack it as a backup in Baltimore than the guy who was a Pro Bowler a year ago. DA—not Crennel—made the inexplicable decision to throw the ball to a rookie wide receiver in the middle of the field with :08 left in the first half. 


Meanwhile, Braylon Edwards has looked pathetic so far. I mean, the guy has literally dropped more passes than he has caught! I used to give him a pass (no pun intended) on his drops because this is the guy he was in college and in his first few NFL seasons. But this team, especially its wide-receiver unit, is simply not good enough at this point to overcome dropped passes and blown assignments.


Nothing I’ve heard about Braylon Edwards over the past month has anything to do with catching the football. Michael Phelps this, LeBron James that, running in socks here, speeding tickets there. Enough already! Do your job!

In addition to these wretched performances, the running game has been very mediocre, albeit against two solid defenses, and the bottom line is that the offense has scored ONE touchdown in eight quarters.

Even the defense, which was soft and ineffective in Week One, played an (unexpectedly) amazing game against Pittsburgh but still gave up back-breaking plays at critical moments in the game. The Steelers made it 10-0 after starting a drive on their own 16-yard line, after the Browns surrendered a 48-yard pass on first down. And don’t forget that, following the kickoff, which was mishandled by Pittsburgh’s Rashard Mendenhall and nearly recovered by Jerome Harrison (another failure to make a key play at a key moment), the ball was spotted at the two-yard line.

With the Dawg Pound barking louder than ever behind him, Ben Roethlisberger was able to complete a 31-yard pass and give the Steelers more-than-enough breathing room. Though Pittsburgh ultimately punted, this was a critical moment in the game (starting with the kickoff), where the Browns needed desperately to make a big play and change the course of the game.

Why didn’t someone step up right there? Should Romeo have come off the sideline and tried to intercept the Roethlisberger pass, or should he have lined up at defensive end and gone for the sack? (For the record, I don’t think he’s got the hops or a very dynamic pass rush.)

Ok, so I agree that Romeo is not soon going to make anyone forget Paul Brown and Vince Lombardi.  And yes, his decision to kick the field goal in the fourth quarter was a horrible one, in that he didn’t lay it all on the line, something that seems incomprehensible to all of us who want to win—and beat the Yinzers—so badly.

But even after kicking the field goal, there was still time for the Browns to get a stop on defense. After stuffing Willie Parker on first down, the Browns gave up a 19-yard completion to Heath Miller on second down. If the Browns are able to break up the pass intended for Miller, the clock stops, the Browns save a timeout, and, if they are able to get a hold on third down and take a timeout, get the ball back with one timeout and the two-minute warning.

Maybe this is a leap of faith for the defense, but the defense played pretty darn well all evening long, and what evidence do any of us have that the Browns would have gotten a touchdown—or even converted—on 4th-and-7, given that our offense has lacked the ability to make big plays in these two games?

I’m not saying that fans shouldn’t be mad at Romeo Crennel. Hell, I’m pretty mad myself. But it’s far too easy to automatically go to the “Fire Romeo” chants and put everything on the head coach.

It’s also a waste of time. He will not be fired during the middle of the season, and even if he is, who would replace him now? The players are responsible for the disappointing start to the season. The players are the ones who need to make the plays. 

When will fans start holding them accountable? While they're yelling, “Romeo Must Go,” I’ll be yelling, “Braylon Must Catch.”