Cleveland Browns at 2-4: Change They Need, Change They Can Count On (?)

The CoopCorrespondent IOctober 22, 2008

What a difference a week makes. In the span of just seven days, the Browns went from playing their best game of the year to putting on a shameful show that has enraged even the most optimistic of fans.

After destroying the 4-0 New York Giants two Mondays ago, the Browns followed up with an embarrassing, frustrating, and all-around pitiful defeat at the hands of the Washington Redskins, 14-11.

They fooled us all. 

What we saw against the Giants was we expected from the get-go: excellent offensive-line play guiding an efficient offense, led by intelligent quarterbacking and an array of playmakers stepping up. That performance now looks like the exception rather than the norm, as the Browns gave the fans a heavy dose of play reminiscent of Weeks One through Four.

Ironically, the Browns' performance in our nation’s capital Sunday is yielding the same response as George W. Bush’s job in that city over the last eight years: WE NEED CHANGE!

Any review of a team’s performance must start from the top. That begins with General Manage Phil Savage. Savage was widely acclaimed for his cunning offseason moves since taking over as GM in 2005, and you couldn’t find anyone to say a bad word about him. Since the start of this season, however, he has taken some heat for poor on-field play and coaching. 

But everyone seems to agree that the Browns have too much talent for them to be playing as dreadfully as their 2-4 record would indicate. This is clearly the source of Browns’ fans intense frustrations.  But that sentiment strengthens the case for Savage.  If they have “too much talent,” then clearly the GM has done his job.

Next up, Romeo Crennel. A team cannot be 2-4 without the head coach taking some of the blame, but I am still in his corner. 

Romeo’s clock management continues to come into question, but managing the game is always made a lot easier with execution on the field. The Browns simply haven’t had it. A bad throw here and a dropped pass there (I’m getting to those) put the Browns in situations that any team would have trouble overcoming.

His decisions to “go for it” versus kicking the sure field goal fall under the category “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”  Regardless of the decision that is made, it’s always—and only—a good one if the Browns win and a bad one if they don’t. Criticizing these choices is pointless because it also assumes that a series of successful plays will follow based on the decision.

Another common complaint is that the team has frequently looked unready to play. While their schemes on both sides of the ball seem sound, their focus and intensity is seriously lacking. At the end of the day, however, professional athletes should not need to be pumped up to play the game. They are paid to execute the coach’s gameplan. If the gameplan is sound but the results are not there, it’s the fault of the players.

Here’s where things start to diverge. I’m going to start with the positive—and yes, there are positives. Too often we focus on the glaring problems and fail to acknowledge the good.

I want more people talking about the defense. (Incidentally, Romeo Crennel should receive as much credit here as he does blame for game management.) Without the solid play of the defense, the Browns would get blown out every week. They have given up the sixth-fewest points in the league and have kept the team in virtually every game. Even in games where they surrendered a lot of points, it was because they were on the field all day thanks to the Browns’ anemic offense.

While they surrender big yards in the run game, they have been good on third down and have gotten key turnovers at critical moments. Against Washington, the Browns defense actually held the ‘Skins to 3-11 (27 percent) on third down, kept their time of possession under 30 minutes, and recovered a fumble, which led to a touchdown.

What more can you ask, especially for a unit that was the team’s biggest concern entering the season? No objective analysis of the team is complete without a mention of the solid defensive play.

That, of course, leaves the offense. I won’t beat around the bush. Derek Anderson must be benched. Admittedly, I have supported D.A. and believed that he could turn it around. I felt that his game against New York would do wonders to his confidence. 

His confidence might have been sky-high entering the Washington game, but it’s got to be all but gone now. And, confident or not, his accuracy and reads have officially gone into the toilet. He still continues to struggle with the short and intermediate throws that plagued him last year, and now he even looks incapable of throwing the bomb. 

Whatever the problem is—between his ears or attached to his right shoulder—he is not helping the Browns win. Hopefully his hands aren't too tired to hold a clipboard and chart plays.

And while we’re on the topic of guys getting benched, Derek Anderson should make room for Braylon Edwards. His cute little drops that I used to love watching when he played at That Team Up North are no longer funny. Because he’s not touching the ball on every play, he can’t be blamed as much as D.A. But he’s not far behind. He makes Dennis Northcutt look like Jerry Rice.

His attitude and mouth are writing checks that his hands can’t catch. It’s embarrassing. He should be embarrassed. And the Browns should not take it any longer. What difference does it make who would replace Braylon? It literally could not get any worse for him. Any catch that Syndric Steptoe or Josh Cribbs makes is a bonus. And get Steve Sanders on the phone while you’re at it.

Getting back to the quarterback situation, Browns fans must first admit that benching D.A. does not automatically mean they’ll get good play from Brady Quinn.

In the preseason, Quinn proved that he has a long way to go before he is ready to lead the team to victories. There are going to be immense struggles. In fact, Browns fans should be ready for more of the same. There are going to be bad throws, bad reads, and bad decisions. Like Anderson, Quinn will electrify us on one play and frustrate us on the next one.

But in the grand scheme of things, this is the right decision for the future of the organization. It’s time to find out whether or not Quinn can get it done. Historically, quarterbacks are far more likely to succeed when they’re surrounded by talent. Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, and David Garrard are examples of average quarterbacks that have excelled with adequate weapons around them. Quinn will find himself in the same position.

There is a logjam in the AFC with teams at 3-3, which would currently be good for a playoff spot. At 2-4, the Browns are only one game behind, and they get to play three of those 3-3 teams in the coming weeks, with the first of those opportunities in Jacksonville this Sunday.

Improbable as it may be, a fresh face barking out the signals might be just what the offense needs. B.Q. should put down the Subway, finish his Myoplex, and grab his helmet: Let’s see what the kid can do.