Browns Review: Game #12 (Cincinnati)

Opening Statement

Does anyone out there want me to talk about the Cincinnati game– to break down what happened in some detail?


OK, I thought so. One of the teams was young, talented, well-coached and eager to play. The other was not. According to Pro Football Reference (as good a source as any), the average age of the Browns was 25.9 years old; the Bengals averaged 26.6 years.

Both teams have 12 players 30 or older, but Cincinnati’s list includes both kickers (P Kevin Huber and K Mike Nugent). There are 4 substitutes (DT Pat Sims, TE Clark Harris, DE Wallace Gilberty and T Eric Winston) who have played in 41 of the 48 games, but started 3 only three.

The other six players are clearly playing well:

  • T Andrew Whitworth
  • CB Adam Jones, FS Reggie Nelson and nickel back Leon Hall (who was injured and missed the game)
  • DT Domata Peko and LB A.J. Hawk aren’t as great as they seemed against the Browns. but they’re certainly average. Hawk won a Super Bowl in Green Bay, so presumably he has veteran intangibles and savvy.

The Browns, on the other hand, have 5-7 players that are 30 (or will be before the end of the year). who ought to be in a lineup:

  • QB Josh McCown (36), who has been below average in every performance measure other than the four in the QB rating.
  • LB Karlos Dansby (34), who is still giving it all he has– but whose “all” is receding.
  • P Andy Lee (33), still a respectable 12th in net punting average.
  • DE Randy Starks (32), whose motor is out of gas. He’s had one sack, (against the Rams in week 7), and has had two tackles and an assist in the last three games
  • CB Tramon Willians (32), who’s been beaten like a gong, a drum or a rug all season, and is an object lesson in how stupidly the Browns are run.
  • WR Dwayne Bogus (31), who has been a total waste of money.
  • LT Joe Thomas (31), still one of the top tackles in the NFL.
  • TE Gary Barnidge (30), who will make a lot of money in free agency at the end of the season.
  • DE Desmond Bryant (30), who is also at the end of the road, but could maybe last a year or two as a sub.
  • RG John Greco (30), who has had a fine run, but is also slowing down.
  • C Alex Mack (30), who’s visibly counting snaps until he can opt out of his deal.
  • SS Donte Whitner (30), like Dansby), still a pro, but at the end of the road.

Lee, Thomas, Barnidge, Greco and Mack certainly could start for many teams. But Barnidge is the only player doing better than he used to.

Dansby and Whitner would be problems for a good team, but you could hide them or use them in spots. Bryant could play in a rotation of ends, as long as you didn’t give him too many snaps.

McCown, Starks, Tramon Williams and Bogus are landfill. And those were four of five big signings (WR Brian Hartline being the other).

That’s half your problem. The other half are the three guys who were sent away:

  1. DE-LB Jabaal Sheard (despite missing four games with a foot injury) is 11th in snaps for the reigning champion Patriots.
  2. NT Ahtyba Rubin has started 12 games for Seattle, who lost the Super Bowl and is third in the league in points allowed this year. He’s 12th in snaps, because he usually plays only two downs.
  3. CB Buster Skrine has started 5 games for the Jets when Darrelle Revis or Antonio Cromartie are injured and played the nickel or slot when those guys are healthy. He’s eighth in snaps.

They’re maybe not world-beaters (though Sheard has been moved around so much, I wonder how much that has hurt him). But they all knew their assignments and did their jobs. They were better players than the people who replaced them.

TE Jordan “Poke” Cameron, by the way, is royally unhappy in Miami. The Dolphins are insisting that he block– something Cameron considers completely outside the scope of his job description. He’s been targeted only 58 times, caught only 26 and has only 308 yards and two scores. The Dolphins, who have Jarvis Landry and Rishard Matthews at receiver, prefer to throw to them.

Still, Cameron would be a huge step up from TEs Jim Dray (plays sparingly), Rob Housler (cut) and E.J. Bibbs, who draw no coverage.

I don’t normally quote Sam “the Sham” Rutigliano, other than to say “You cannot throw the football from horizontal parade rest.” But he ran off a list of failed #1 picks and free agent signings the other day He’s right. That’s the problem.

I could say more, but let me take questions.

So you’d blow up the team?

No. But I would flush the toilet. You cannot blow up a 2-14 team— you don’t have anything to dis-assemble.

A year ago, the Browns seemed to have the core of a good team. They had a secondary with three Pro Bowl players and an offensive line with four high picks and two Pro Bowl players.

At this point, the secondary has a Pro Bowl player who has missed half the year with brain injuries (Joe Haden), one who wants to leave (FS Tashaun Gipson) and one who is over the hill (Whitner).

The offensive line has three players over 30 (one of whom can be a free agent) and a fourth (RT Mitchell Schwartz) whose contract is up.

The next front office will be starting from scratch.

OK, but you’d fire everyone?


No, I’d fire one person and then let his replacement decide what to do.

If I were running the team, “Snapchat“ Ray Farmer would be fired seconds after the final gun of the Pittsburgh game. If you have the first overall pick, you cannot possibly put a blithering idiot– an absolute and total incompetent who has played a role in three consecutive failed drafts– in charge of deciding what to do with it.

Pretty much everything Snapchat has done has failed spectacularly. He’s bolted past Dwight Clark to become the worst GM since 1999. You have to get rid of him– there is no alternative.

What if they can’t get anyone qualified?


They don’t have anyone qualified now. There isn’t any GM in the league less ept than Snapchat. In three seasons, he’s produced LG Joel Bitonio (who didn’t do as well in his second season), LB Armonty Bryant (a one-dimensional pass rusher) and H-Back Squire Johnson.

No one else would be on the roster of an NFL team that reached the playoffs, except as a developmental player, because his size / speed intrigued them.

If you asked all 32 assistant GMs, and all 32 college personnel chiefs and all 32 pro personnel chiefs, at least a few of them would say “Yes, I would like to be GM of the Browns.” The odds that one would be worse than Snapchat are miniscule.

So why not fire Farmer now?


Because if you act now, the coaches and the players knows what is coming, and they all go into career protection mode. Also, why conduct the first stages of the candidate search with everyone butting in?

Mary Kay Greenhouse of America’s Worst Newspaper gets the majority of her stories planted by agents looking to help their clients. If you fire Farmer now, she’ll be running admiring profiles of every client on Bob LaMonte’s client roster. It’ll be much harder to conduct a search when she’s writing puff pieces about Chris Ballard. Randy Mueller and Chris Polian (to name three).

The real danger will be Chris Polian, because Greenhouse will promise that his dad Bill will be happy to come along as team president if they make his idiot offspring the GM. if you look at the last few drafts the Colts had before they fired Bill, you can see what a bad idea it would be to get the Polians.

If Jimmy Haslam has a brain in his head, he is already asking the people in his network about recently-fired GMs, assistant GMs and personnel people. He can spend the next month doing that, claiming that he’s just trying to get input on how to move forward.

If there were an overwhelming GM prospect, maybe it would be worth firing Farmer to get a jump on the process. There isn’t. So Haslam might as well just do his homework.

I’d get Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden


Yeah, because retired coaches who’ve gotten accustomed to working 40 hours a week (60-80 hours less than they did coaching) with absolutely no pressure to perform make such great coaches. Mike Holmgren sure did a bang-up job, didn’t he? How about Bill Parcells in Miami?

Even as great a coach as Joe Gibbs went 30-34 his second time around. When the fire goes out, it’s usually gone for good.

What about Dick Vermeil?


Vermeil still had fire in the belly. He hadn’t won a Super Bowl– had gotten drilled pretty badly in the one he did reach. He was a friend of both Bill Walsh and Marv Levy; it bothered him to hear people say they were better coaches. He wanted to win something to establish his legacy.

Both those guys already have their legacies.

Chucky is 52. His career record is 95-81 (a .540 winning percentage, or an 8-7-1 average record). He had the good fortune to join Tampa Bay when they had a world-class defense, and he patched together enough offense to get them over the top.

But he went 57-55 in seven seasons in Tampa– four winning records, three playoff trips and only two seasons with 10+ wins. He had two winning seasons in Oakland in four tries; the other two he went 8-8.

8-8 is better than what we’ve had here.


Gruden went 8-8 when he was going full-throttle. We’re nearly two decades past that maniac in his mid-thirties.

Cowher is 58; it’s usually not a good idea to hire a coach over 60. He’s been out of the league since 2006. Not to sneer at a 149-90-1 record (.623), but in his 15 seasons, Cowher had six “not so hot” seasons:

  • Three losing seasons
  • One 8-8 record
  • Two 9-7 seasons

His problem was the inability to get a decent quarterback. He used Neil O’Donnell for four seasons, Kordell Stewart for four, Mike Tomczak for two and Tommy Maddox for two. His front office had to decide to draft Ben Roethlisberger; Cowher (who was 115-76-1; a .601 winning percentage) felt they’d been doing fine without burning a #1 pick on a quarterback.

If Cowher came to the Browns, you wouldn’t be able to overrule him– both Cowher and Gruden would insist on being their own GMs. And they were both pretty terrible GMs.

Plus, coaches rely on their assistants– and they wouldn’t be available. Cowher’s first staff, for example, included Ron Erhardt, Dom Capers, Dick LeBeau and Marvin Lewis– four past or future head coaches who had been friends or co-workers.

I’m second to none in my admiration for Paul Brown, but the fact of the matter is that he went to eight NFL championship games while Blanton Collier and Weeb Ewbank were his coordinators. When they both left after 1953, he played for the title twice more– 1954 and 1955– and then never again.

If either Cowher or Gruden returned to the NFL, they’d have to assemble a staff from scratch. That would be a problem.

So you just want to hire another assistant,
like Pettine or Pat Shurmur 


 I want to hire the next Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden. Those guys were both assistant coaches at one point, and neither was a no-brainer hire.

Gruden was hired by the Raiders after three years as offensive coordinator for the 1995-97 Eagles, who went 26-21-1 in that time (an average 9-7 record). His offense ranked 21st, 9th and 19th. He was very young, and had worked for Bill Walsh and Mike Holmgren, but there were people wondering if he was ready.

Pittsburgh hired Cowher after he spent three seasons running the Chiefs’ defense under Marty Schottenheimer. Naturally the Chiefs had a fabulous record (29-18-1), but Cowher’s defense ranked 2nd, 16th and 13th. People wondered how much coordinating he was doing with Marty in charge.

My goal is to hire a championship coach before he wins a title and then burns out and becomes an announcer.

Or, rather, I want my new GM to do it.

So you’d definitely fire Pettine?


It would be the GM’s call.

Usually the new GM will change coaches. Hiring the coach is almost always the most important decision a new GM makes (sometimes there is a very high pick with several options. He and the coach need to agree on what to do and how to do it.

Or to put it another way, a GM usually gets hired because the team is screwed up. The possibility that the coach is entirely blameless in this turn of events is very low. Almost always, the coach has created many of the problems the GM has been brought in to fix.

On this team, for example, one of the first questions the new GM is likely to ask is “Why haven’t you been playing the draft picks? In 2014, your GM drafted Justin Gilbert in round one and Pierre Desir in round four. Why did you rely on Charles Gaines (53 of 56 snaps) and Tramon Williams (48-56) against the Bengals?”

The response– “I have a slogan called ‘Play like a Brown’”— probably won’t impress the GM. An organization needs to either play draft picks or cut them– not keep them on the bench like Mark Shapiro loved to do.

So why not fire Pettine now?


Two reasons. First, as I’ve said repeatedly, there isn’t anyone on the staff who could finish out the season.

Second is that it should be the new GM’s call. One of the reasons the Browns have such a horrible reputation around the league is that they rarely observe the NFL’s code of conduct.

Cleveland can’t get decent assistants because the Browns will fire a head coach and then refuse to let the assistants interview until:

  • They’ve hired a head coach (which often takes forever), and
  • The head coach decides who he wants to retain.

When assistants can’t look until almost every staff has finished hiring, they have to bad jobs or sit out a year.

The Browns have trouble retaining free agents because they never want to talk contract until the contract expires. Other teams will offer to extend a key player who has one year left– or they’ll do it during the season, if he is playing well. The player has an incentive to take the deal, because he might get injured and lose his chance at a big contract.

The Browns wait until the end of player’s contract– when he has no reason not to entertain offers from other teams. Then they say that they don’t want him to do anything until they give him an offer. Then they don’t get him an offer before free agency begins– even though the first 2-3 days of free agency are like Black Friday at an electronics store (all the good deals go early).

On a well-run team, the general manager decides when to hire and fire the coach. Not the owner. If the owner fires the coach without asking the GM, it tells candidates how much input they get into the process.

But it’s Jimmy Haslam’s team.


And that mindset– “It’s my team and I can do as I like”— will scare away candidates.

The rumor that Haslam (not Farmer or Pettine) is the guy who decided t he Browns had to draft Johnny Relapse has never gone away. Word on the NFL grapevine is that Haslam is a Jerry Jones wannabe– but without the substance:

  • Jones was co-captain of a national champion (Arkansas), playing for a Hall-of-Fame coach (Frank Broyles).
  • Johnson had teammates who became successful head coaches (Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer, Johnny Majors and Haden Fry).

Haslam doesn’t have that sort of pedigree. He hasn’t gotten those results. And the way he got manipulated by Joe Banner made Haslam look like a fool.

He needs to present the impression that he is a sane, sober businessman. Firing the head coach to let KT coach Chris Tabor run things for four games won’t send that message.

But you think Pettine ought to be fired…


If for no other reason than his handling of Johnny Relapse. By agreeing to start him against San Francisco, the Browns sent him the following message:

  1. The rules apply to other people.
  2. Teams need you more than you need them.
  3. As long as you can produce results, you’ll always get another chance.
  4. You can keep drinking and ignore what the coaches say– they’ll eventually do things your way. Just keep it quiet and play well Sundays.

This bit of Kabuki theater– the stylized set of movements where everyone knew what the outcome would be– helped set Johnny Relapse’s behavior in stone.

Pettine has transformed a guy who might have been an addict into someone who definitely is.

And he did that how?


By not setting boundaries. There are two components to addiction.

1. The tangible impact your addiction has on your life. That means the bills you can’t pay due to your gambling losses, the days you miss work due to drinking, the lower quality of your work because you’re stoned, the relationships you blow up by cheating… That’s bad enough.

2. The destruction of a healthy personality. Normal people have self-imposed limits– things they won’t do, whether or not they can. That means a non-gambler won’t steal money from people, even if they probably won’t notice it is missing– or will forgive them for doing it. Someone who isn’t a sex addict won’t sleep with their child’s friend– even if they are eager and willing.

Addicts don’t respect those limits. When it comes to their addiction, they are pure sociopaths. They will literally say or do anything to continue doing what they’ve been doing. The rules that govern everyone else– morals, ethics, laws or even fear of consequences– no longer have any hold on them. The ends (continuing the addiction) shape the means.

When Johnny Relapse (a) promised Pettine that he wouldn’t drink, then (b) went drinking and tried to make sure no one photographed him and (c) denied it when he got caught, that was the telltale sign of addictive behavior.

There was a chance to stop it, by establishing some external limits– by shutting down his season and sending him back to rehab. But Pettine enabled him– first by saying he wouldn’t play and then by wimping out.

Pettine doesn’t understand addiction– something he proved in spades today. Sadly, that is a failing that can prevent a coach from doing his job. He needs to go.

Didn’t you say they should play him
to raise his trade value?


That was back when he had trade value. The minute the Browns benched him, they eliminated it.

Let’s assume Pettine had let Johnny Relapse play against Baltimore– and that he won. it would have improved his record as a starter this season to 2-2. He would probably have had a good game– 300 yards passing, 3-4 rushing and/or passing touchdowns– on Monday Night. That would have made him attractive to other teams.

Against the Bengals, he wouldn’t have had to win– he just would have needed to make progress from week 9. In that game, he went 15-33 for 168 yards and a score (71.3 rating). If he had done, say, 18-35 for 210 yards and a score, it would be a sign that he had made progress.

Had he beaten the 49ers this weekend, he’d be 3-3 as a starter, with a rating over 90 this year. People would be willing to write off the losses against Kansas City, Seattle and Pittsburgh. Even counting the lost season of 2014, he’d have only started 11 games and played in 17.

Had the Browns put that Johnny Relapse on the block after the season, saying “We have a chance to get Rufus Le Petomane, and we can’t pass him up”, that would sound plausible. There would be plenty of teams willing to believe that Joe Namath, Ken Stabler and Bobby Layne won championships despite their drinking problems and take a shot at him.

They wouldn’t offer the #1 and #3 the Browns spent, but they’d make offers that would let them get a decent player. Depending on the team, the Browns might even be able to throw in Meowkevious Mingo, or Joe Haden to geta  premium pick.

The minute the Browns sat Johnny Relapse down, teams knew he was finished. The best Cleveland will be able to get now is a #7, from a team with a won-loss record that puts them way down the waiver list. They know the player probably won’t fall to them– that someone with a worse record will claim him– so (like Indianpolis did with Billy Winn) they give up a pick to leapfrog the line.

And if his value isn’t gone now, wait until he gets caught again.

You think he’ll drink again?

He probably got plastered last night. Why wouldn’t he?

Pettine said the consequences of another
incident would be dire?


Even assuming he is deciding who to start, why would anyone take anything he says seriously?

Another reason Pettine has to go is that he’s lost all credibility with everyone. Everyone has learned that they can’t trust what he says. For example:

  1. Pettine insisted Cameron Erving was doing fine, even though he hadn’t been able to win a job from either Greco or Schwartz.
  2. When Erving got a chance to start due to injury and had his head handed to him, Pettine said it was just growing pains.
  3. When it became obvious he was being blown off the ball, Pettine admitted he needed to work on a few things (like blocking), but expressed confidence in the player.
  4. Erving gets pulled from the game– in mid-drive– and Pettine says it wasn’t because he was playing badly. We’re supposed to believe the coaches all had a sudden urge to see Austin Pasztor.
  5. Today he announces that Pasztor will start.

There are three good responses a manager or coach can make. One is to tell the truth. The second (if you don’t know what you intend to do) is to say “I don’t know.” The third is to say “I know, but I’m not telling you.”

When you say one thing publicly, but do another, everyone learns to ignore you and listen to the rumors. Rex Ryan has the same problem– and Rex is also a lax disciplinarian. It looks like Pettine inherited all the wrong traits from his mentor– everything but the foot fetish.


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