I still remember celebrating in front of the TV the day I found out the Browns had acquired Shaun Rogers and Dante Stallworth – on the same day!! The Browns would be unstoppable! Ok, so our defense was taking a hit by losing Leigh Bodden, but that didn’t matter. The upgrade to our front seven would surely be worth losing an undrafted cornerback in his decline. And even if our defense gave up some points, who cared? The offense, especially now with Stallworth, would light up every scoreboard in the league! Yep, after an out-of-nowhere 10-6 season in ’07, there was no doubt that the Browns were ready to make a deep run in the playoffs in ‘08. Some of you even uttered those two words that are almost forbidden to Browns fans: Super Bowl.
Well, if you’ve been a Browns fan for any length of time, you can’t possibly be surprised by the Browns disastrous start. We’ve seen this movie before, and it does not end well. Even in just the recent past, every time we get even a hint of good things to come, things start to fall apart quicker than a cheap suit. It always starts with injuries to key players. Then, it’s a game with guys who don’t perform up to their expectations. The injuries continue. Then there’s a game where everyone blames the coach. Then the quarterback. More injuries. Toss in a game with penalties, turnovers, and all-around lackluster play, and finally we arrive at the point where all seems hopeless; where we pray for a good fantasy team because our prayers for a good professional team have been unanswered yet again.
And so we find ourselves at that vulnerable point once more. The Browns are 0-3 and have looked bad getting there. Rain or shine, home or away, starter or backup, the Browns have lost both close games and blowouts with subpar defense and even worse offense. In this 2008 season, the Browns have rarely even offered those promising glimpses into the future that we so desperately crave, telling us that better times are not far away.
So what’s an 0-3 team with one of the league’s hardest schedules to do? Unfortunately, the answer, as any open-minded Browns fan will tell you, is extremely complex. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, it’s tragically naïve to think one singular thing will cure all of the Browns’ woes. Rather, it will take a number of things, some drastic and some not-so-much, to turn the tide for the Browns.
First, let’s take a look at the head coaching situation, since that has been the most prevalent target for angry Browns fans. I will grant you that Romeo has made some questionable decisions, and should take some of the responsibility for team looking, at times, unprepared and unmotivated. This is very frustrating to be sure. However, there’s also no doubt that he does not deserve all of the blame. So what will firing Crennel accomplish? Who will replace him? Most members of the Romeo Must Go Fan Club want Bill Cowher, and they make the mistake of assuming that it’s a guarantee that Cleveland’s front office will want him and that Cowher himself will want to come here. What incentive does he have to take over a floundering team like the Browns? Even if the Browns and Cowher decide that they make a nice pair, he’s not going to come here in the middle of the season, so let’s just end the Bill Cowher talk until at least the season is over.
The only two candidates to take Romeo’s job in mid-season are Offensive Coordinator Rob Chudzinski and Assistant Head Coach Rip Scherer. (The two have a combined zero years of head coaching experience, by the way.) Switching head coaches during the season never works (Terry Robiskie, anyone?). Players simply don’t respond to a guy that they’ve seen back into a job at another guy’s expense. In fact, the change often causes animosity, uneasiness, and even division in the locker room. If nothing else, it fails to create any type of positive spark and usually just distracts the team with constant questions from the media. Romeo might not be the right man for the job, but firing him now shouldn’t happen, it’s not going to happen, and it wouldn’t help anything anyways, so to all you members of the RMGFC: let’s talk after the season.
Onto Public Enemy # 2: Derek Anderson. Even my girlfriend can see that he’s been truly pathetic this season, but no one can seem to put their finger on the reason why. His mechanics have eroded (tipped balls?), his understanding of the offense seems to have regressed (bad reads), and most of all, his confidence has completely vanished. Personally, I think a lot of that confidence was left on the windy field in Cinci-tucky last December when he threw 4 interceptions and had a putrid 53.4 QB-rating en route to a Browns’ loss which basically cost them a playoff birth. At any rate, his performance has been completely unacceptable, and just like any other position on the field, a benching must be strongly considered. Heading into a low-down (as opposed to a show-down) with the 0-3 Bengals this Sunday, Anderson deserves one final shot to prove to the organization, the fans, and himself that he is truly worthy of being the Browns’ starting quarterback.
If Anderson doesn’t get it done this Sunday, it’s time to make the switch to Brady Quinn. As a Derek Anderson fan, this is hard for me to say. I’ve always viewed the quarterback situation in terms of which player gives the Browns the best chance to win. Anyone who thinks Quinn should have started prior to now is flat-out wrong. As a rookie, Quinn was nowhere near ready to take the reigns. This was even apparent this summer, when even BQ’s biggest fans were silenced after Quinn had a mostly-uninspiring preseason. Still, when the starter’s performance is as bad as DA’s has been, the backup deserves a shot. This follow the always-popular, “well, it can’t get much worse!” logic.
Let’s get something straight. Brady Quinn is not going to become the starter and suddenly lead the Browns to a 12 or 13-game winning streak. He is going to have many struggles as he becomes acquainted with the NFL. Browns fans will have to accept his “rookie-esque” mistakes and inadequacies, and it will, at times, be difficult to watch. However, he is a tough, hard-working player who does and says all the right things. The upside of making the move is that, unlike a change of Head Coach, a new player can indeed sometimes provide a spark. Additionally, Quinn will gain valuable experience which will hopefully – someday, far from today – make him a bona fide star in the NFL.
Other than that, all the Browns have to do to salvage 2008 is be disciplined, get healthy, play good defense, win the turnover battle each week, and win all of their remaining division games.
But seriously, I still do think the Browns are better than they’ve played. They’ve played three solid opponents and have been exposed a bit, but it’s hard to believe they’ve fallen so far from what they accomplished last year. Instead, the whole team seems to have been crushed under the mountainous expectations that preceded them. Little by little, as starters begin to return to the lineup and the team begins to simply play the way they are capable, things will get better. If the Browns keep stability at the coaching positions and make the change at quarterback (as the situation dictates), they have a chance to regain the respect they’ve lost over the last few months. And with the schedule that the rest of the division plays, if the Browns can string a few wins together, who knows what could happen?
Oops, sorry. There goes that wild optimism again…….