The Browns Table: Self-Destruction Versus Denver

Jeff SmirnoffSenior Writer INovember 11, 2008

Welcome to The Browns Table, a season-long look at the 2008 season for the Cleveland Browns from the point of view of the Browns fans here on Bleacher Report.


This discussion is not just meant for the contributing Browns fans. Please feel free to comment on any of the questions or any of our answers below.


We welcome any comments and an open discussion about the Browns below. If you would like a seat at the table leave me a note on my profile and we will try and get you in the rotation.


As always thanks to Browns fans Coop, Dawgfather, Dustin Haley, Eric Lawhead, and Michael Taylor for their contributions this week.


The guys discuss a second consecutive collapse, the starting debut of “The Other Guy," goats and the NFL Network unnecessary torture of Cleveland sports fans.


So before I burn a picture of John Elway let’s talk Browns football…



Let's get it out of the way. The Golden Boy made his first NFL start. What did you think of Brady Quinn's performance?


The Coop: For the most part, I was very impressed. He definitely did not look anything like a guy making his first NFL start. He was efficient, made good decisions, and was mostly error-free. He showed great poise especially when he rallied the team and led them on a TD-scoring drive to retake the lead late in the fourth quarter.


He also displayed very good pocket presence and mobility, which allowed him to avoid the rush and use his legs to make plays. He was pretty accurate with the short and intermediate passes, and he put some zip on the ball when he had to. He also seemed to have a great sense of where all of his receivers would be in their routes so he could easily find the open man.


Still, he failed at the most important thing, which was getting the "W." At the end of the day, this is what all quarterbacks are judged on, and B.Q. should be no different. I was also a little troubled by the fact that they didn't even attempt any long passes. I'm not just talking about bombs, but the 20-25 yard patterns.


And I cannot overlook the fact that they played Denver, who is just about as bad on defense as the Browns. This isn't meant to discredit anything Quinn did, but it was definitely a factor in his success.


Dawgfather: Very sharp and crisp, a lot of simple short-intermediate passes to build his confidence and get a flow for the offense, I would say a solid A.


Dustin Haley: I’m not going to go over board here and say Quinn had a spectacular game, but he did bring consistency to the position, which we have been lacking. Whether or not he’s going to be consistent game to game remains to be seen, but for his first regular season NFL start, he was very solid.


Statistically he played very well, completing over 70 percent of his passes for with two touchdowns, but what impressed me the most was his ability to buy time to throw by stepping up or rolling out. He has and excellent pocket presence and that ability will pay dividends as he develops.


Aside from a few questionable but receivable throws at the end of the game I think we should be pretty excited at how well he played.


Eric Lawhead: Well like everyone else says...He managed the game very well. He made plays when he had to and didn't lose the game for them. Very Kyle Orton-esque when he was a rookie with the Bears.


Jeff Smirnoff: He was great. It was against a bad defense but he made the plays when he needed to to put the Browns in a spot to win. People will say that he didn’t take a shot downfield, but he didn’t need to.


If Winslow does not make that pass interference penalty on a converted third down or fumble late in the third quarter, the Browns have a lot more points on the board and everyone is raving about how he picked apart the Broncos on one day of practice.


A good start, it will be interesting to see how he adjusts against better defenses and once opposing coaches adjust to him.


Michael Taylor: It was as good as you could hope for from anyone's first NFL start. He did miss a few key passes, and Kellen Winslow saved a few passes by catching them off of his shoestrings, but overall Quinn made strong, accurate throws. He had a presence and poise to him as well.


I will not expect this to happen each week as many fans probably will, but Quinn will be a very respectable Quarterback that will only get better with more experience. He could be great.



Two players on the Browns not named Brady Quinn stood out in the game against the Broncos:  Kellen Winslow and Brandon McDonald. Which one do you think had a bigger impact of the game?


The Coop: Overall, I've got to go with "The Soldier." His first half was amazing. He and Brady had a great pitch-and-catch thing going. It fit in well with the Browns' gameplan and allowed BQ to settle in and lead the offense down the field efficiently and effectively. Scoring those two TDs was just what the doctor ordered. Winslow proved to be reliable and dominant.


As positive of an impact as K2's first half was, his second half, specifically his fourth quarter, was just as negative. The pass interference, fumble, and dropped pass on fourth down each did significant damage.


The PI and the fumble negated Browns first downs, which would have allowed the Browns to take even more time off the clock if not help them get more points. The dropped pass ended the game. Ouch.


It's too easy to blame Brandon McDonald for all of the defense's problems. The number of missed tackles by everyone was sickening. There was no pass rush either, and when a guy like Jay Cutler has all day to throw, even the greatest defensive backs in the league are going to get beat.


Yeah, he should have made those INTs, and yeah, maybe his coverage could have been better, but he's guarded the No. 1 WR on every team the Browns have played this year and has done a pretty good job. I'm not going to throw him under the bus for this particularly bad game.


Dawgfather: Brandon McDonald for getting burned and not playing up more on the WRs.


Dustin Haley: Kellen Winslow finally had a big game, but without the “W”, I’m going to have to say Brandon McDonald’s suspect play made the biggest impact on the game. I’ve got nothing but love for B-Mac, but you can’t give up 138 yards of offense on three catches while trying to close out a game. Not all blame can be put on him, but sometimes it’s better to be in a position to tackle than making a play for the ball.


I’m confident that he will learn and improve although his play and decision making have been unacceptable the last couple of weeks, mostly due to his aggressive nature in his game. It’s that trait that I like most about him, quite the paradox but he needs to figure out when to be aggressive and when to not.


Eric Lawhead: Well I would say K-2. He became Quinn's best friend by catching 10 balls for 111 yards and two scores. But then he also fumbled in the fourth and let a ball go right through his hands on a crucial fourth down. I would say McDonald broke out a bit, but Winslow had a bigger impact.


Jeff Smirnoff: Winslow. McDonald is a young DB, who is going to have his share of growing pains. It happens. If Winslow does not make that pass interference penalty or fumble on consecutive possessions, at a minimum the Browns get two field goals and have a 19 point lead with about 12 minutes left, and maybe the defense holds on.


The drop of the easier pass he had all night on 4th-and-1 didn’t help either.


Michael Taylor: Great question! Both made some big plays, and both made some not so great plays that certainly affected the outcome. I have to go with Winslow though. 10 Catches for over 100 yards and two TD. Looks like he and Brady may have a good thing going!


(Editor’s Note: I think Michael missed the point of this question! LOL!)



How does a professional football team blow back-to-back games that they are leading by two touchdowns in the fourth quater at home? What has happened to the Browns' defense in the last two games?


The Coop: On the field, I believe the team completely loses its focus, urgency, and intensity when they're up by a few scores. They have been lacking this "killer instinct" all season.


When this happens, their fundamentals completely erode. Defensively, the missed tackles and blown assignments are inexcusable and the players should be embarrassed.


Even though I've supported the coaching staff this year, they also deserve some of the blame. The play-calling, both on offense AND defense, becomes ultra-conservative.


I think this, as a mindset, trickles down to the players and manifests in the poor performances. When they start running the ball every down once they're ahead, and once they stop blitzing once they're ahead, they become predictable and easy to beat.


Dawgfather: Being on the field too long and not attacking the QB or applying any type of pressure, the Browns are not a playoff ready team and don't know how to "close-out" games yet., also when they are ahead they play prevent, thus guarding against the big play, which is great, but the whole underneath of the field is open, thus vulnerable to the dink-dunk passes.


Dustin Haley: Any time your opponent gains 235 yards of offense in less than eight minutes with almost any lead in the NFL you’re liable to give up a win. Up until the Baltimore game, our defense had done an adequate job of keeping the play in front of them and not giving up the big plays.


Now, the ball is flying over our head, and once that starts happening you can cancel Christmas. It’s hard to say where the problem is deriving from, could be Mel Tuckers play-calling, because we’ve been putting our guys in single coverage, but mostly it’s our DB play within that coverage.


Eric Lawhead: It happens very easily. Poor secondary coaching. The Eddie Royal play was a prime example. The corner has to know that there is no one behind him and anything over his head will be a score. They should have not have been playing such tight man on the outsides and played off the receiver more and who cares if they get a 10-yard pass underneath. Better than 93 over the top.


Jeff Smirnoff: On the players’ end, you had a young secondary have a very poor day and the ineffective linebacking core continuing to get worse as the season goes on. 


Coaching wise, why the Browns could not scheme to stop the pass when the Broncos had no RBs and a rookie FB playing RB is beyond me. It was embarrassing. There was no pressure or creativity in trying to pressure Jay Cutler and he made them pay.


Michael Taylor: I wish I knew. I certainly wouldn't be blogging about it if I did! It is just mind-blowing the ineptitude of this team and franchise. It was nice to not watch them on Sunday. I get another Sunday next week to do other stuff.



The Browns are now 3-6. They obviously have issues. Do you think it is a personnel, coaching or management issue?  Or all of the above?


The Coop: Just about everyone says the Browns have too much talent to be playing this way. Well, if that's the case—that the Browns have "too much talent"—then management, primarily the GM, has done their job.


The coaching staff should be taking some of the heat. The play-calling has been atrocious all season, both offensively and defensively. Also, I don't feel that the coaching staff has held enough players accountable for their performance.


For example, Braylon Edwards should have been benched after the Washington game. He wasn't, and he continued to make the same mistakes he's made all year.


But when you get through all the muck and the mire, it comes down to the players. Romeo Crennel cannot tackle for Mike Adams. Rob Chudzinski cannot catch for Braylon Edwards and throw for Derek Anderson. Mel Tucker cannot cover a receiver for Brandon McDonald.


The players have to make the plays, period. The players have to get themselves mentally prepared to play from the opening kick to the final whistle. They are professional athletes making millions of dollars. Get the job done. End of story.


Dawgfather: All of the above and here are my reasons:


Personnel - we don't have the team that can run a 3-4, I have never liked the 3-4 in the first place as it has clearly exposed our LB's as the worst in the league, I think we need to go back to a 4-3.


Regardless of who is under center, we need to bench Edwards and try and find a solid (and healthy) No. 2 receiver in the offseason because Stallworth is fragile, Braylon drops balls, Winslow makes mental mistakes, and Steptoe is too short.


Coaching - Romeo is done after this season and word is already going out that Cowher is ready to come in, we need a coach who is decisive, tough and gets his players up for a game, and Crennel has shown that he can't motivate a team, let alone coach.


His clock management is very shoddy and his play-calling is very erratic, Chudzinski looks in over his head and that opposing DC's have figured him out, thus a lot of teams know what to expect.


Tucker is not a NFL DC, I'm sorry to say, and the fact that his defense has blown TWO 14-pt leads AT home will deflate a team's morale very quickly.


Management - Is both indecisive and incompetent to go along with "dysfunctional." I'm amazed at how many fans are taking Dilfer's statements so personally when they are true, and I'm in the minority because this management clearly lacks direction and a plan, why did they put Quinn in on a short week, that was what he was referring too but they are all up in arms about must be true because the truth can really sting.


Dustin Haley: There is obviously discontent among the players with Jamal Lewis’ latest comments. Perhaps there isn’t really a player who “gave up” during the game, but Lewis’ statements cannot be without merit.


I’m sure there are egos that get brought onto the field, but I think his message is meant to be deeper than its face value. We’re not going to win games if we continue this he said, he said nonsense. Braylon getting into DA for bad throws when he’s not catching balls, for example.


As much as I respect our coaching staff and have stuck by them this season, I must admit they have lost control of the locker room. Is it completely their fault? No, but it is their job to manage the team and bring them together.


The front office has never seemed to be on the same page with the team all season. They’ve had different opinions on who the starting QB should be, the miscommunications from office personnel to players (perhaps shady?), and the overall inability to keep the team under relative control.


Although Savage and Crennel have publicly supported each other, it is painfully obvious that they are in disagreement with issues.


Eric Lawhead: I would start with coaching. Romeo has already drunk the poison and will be gone by the last "act." He is such a blob on the side lines. It's terrible to see that over there. He has no emotion, couldn't care less how terrible his defense is and just is terrible.


Second is management. The fact that they've allowed Romeo on the sideline for so long is terrible. They will get rid of him and begin a new and improved regime under Bill Cowher.


Jeff Smirnoff: It’s all of the above in varying degrees. They have personnel issues on defense, especially at LB as a whole and CB depth. On offense, they need a successor to Jamal Lewis and WR depth. Coaching is more of a concern because the current coaches can not get the players to play up to their talent level or get them to play a complete 60 minute game on a consistent basis.


I have been saying for years that the Browns’ biggest problem is their organization as a whole. It has been that way since their reincarnation in 1999. There is no one running the show to hold Phil Savage or Romeo Crennel accountable for on or off the field decisions. This team has no identity. 


What are the Browns trying to be on the field? Power running, defense first, throw to set up the run? Without a definition of what you are trying to accomplish and someone to hold people accountable they will continue to flounder.


Michael Taylor: All of the above. Romeo got lucky on a few bonehead moves Thursday, but we have seen those kill him earlier in the year. He is not a head coach, one has to wonder if Belichick had more to do with New England’s defense during their Super Bowl titles than Romeo.


Management also is at fault for putting together such a dysfunctional group. For whatever reason, this group just does not click. They may have the best talent since the Browns return in '99, but the outcomes remain the same.



Flashback of the Week. The NFL Network subjected us to 1,000 replays of "The Drive" Thursday night. Which was more disappointing to you:  The Drive or The Fumble?


The Coop: Wow, this is like asking if I'd rather be put to death by firing squad or electrocution!


As we all know, Cleveland fans have experienced no shortage of devastating plays and defeats. In addition to the two you've mentioned, there's "The Catch" (Willie Mays), "The Shot" (Michael Jordan), and "The Blown Save/Error" (Jose Mesa / Tony Fernandez), just to name a few.


Of all these horrible losses, the ones that are hardest to take are the ones that are self-inflicted. That's why I've got to go with "The Fumble." Earnest Byner had a sure TD, if only he holds onto the ball. This would have capped an amazing comeback and sent the game into overtime, and who knows what would have happened? But he had it..... he was THAT close. Just like when Tony Fernandez booted that routine grounder.


"The Drive," even though Cleveland was on the wrong end, was the stuff legends are made of. John Elway is perhaps not "The" John Elway without The Drive. This was a future Hall-of-Famer becoming an all-time great right in front of our eyes. Players like that you sometimes have to tip your cap to them on a job well done. Just like when Jordan buried that jumper over Craig Ehlo.


Dawgfather: The Drive..clearly.


Dustin Haley: Thankfully I was up in the nosebleeds and didn’t have to watch those god awful replays. Even so, I was all of six years old when it happened I hardly remember the games, let alone how I felt (although I am told I watched them, I’m not sure.) But being the historically educated Browns fan I am, I would have to say that The Fumble would have disappointed me the most.


Having come back from a 21-3 deficit in the second half to tie the game at 31 thanks to Bernie throwing four TDs in the second half, two of which to Earnest Byner. Only to have Byner, who was having a good game and was one to thank for the comeback, fumble it right before making the go ahead touchdown at the end of the game.


Eric Lawhead: The Drive. It breaks my heart every time I see it. That team was awesome, and Elway broke our hearts. The most heart-wrenching play however, is Jordan's cross the lane game winner over Ehlo.


Jeff Smirnoff: For me it is “The Fumble”.  “The Drive” was a combination of Marty Schottenheimer playing prevent defense against a mobile QB and John Elway being John Elway.  Denver won that game more than the Browns lost it.


“The Fumble” hit home because the Browns had all the momentum and were going to tie the game and everyone felt they would win it.


But when Webster Slaughter half-assed a block and Earnest Byner fumbled the Browns had lost the game. Plus, Earnest Byner was one of my favorite players and it killed me to have it happen to him.


Michael Taylor: Hey now...As soon as they showed that damn "The Drive" clip, what did Jay Cutler do? Throw a 93-yard TD to Eddie Royal to start the comeback. I actually told my wife while they were showing that clip that the Browns would be jinxed. I didn't think that badly.


And to get back to the question, personally the Fumble was more disappointing because I was just old enough to really get into watching sports with my Dad, and knowing what was going on during a game. I remember we also had family over to watch the game, so when that play happened...well you know how it felt, the party was over.


Overall though I would say the Drive was more disappointing because it was at Home, the Browns had the lead late in the game, and Elway was backed up to the two-yard line after the botched kickoff. That was the year the Browns were to win it all, and it didn't happen.


My most vivid memory of this game was Brian Brennan’s catch that he like fell on or something and dodged a guy to get a few extra yards deep in Broncos territory. Classic game with a classic disappointment.