Browns Review: Game 16 (Pittsburgh)

Opening Statement

I know nobody cares about the final game, but I was impressed by how it managed to encapsulate everything about the Mike Pettine era.

1. The Browns enter the game with a third-string quarterback, a threadbare receiving corps and a ground game that has gained 556 rushing yards over the past three games.

And then 10 of the 14 plays called in the first quarter are passes.

Six of the first eight plays involve Austin Davis dropping back. Davis goes 3-5 for 17 yards– and another 5 yards on an illegal contact call on the Steelers. But the Steelers sack Davis twice, pushing him back 15 yards. So that’s seven yards gained on six plays.

I don’t know how many times I have heard the future former offensive coordinator whine that the team fell behind and they had to throw. At the end of the first half, they were behind 14-9, but they had already thrown 23 times and run 11.

They’d gained 35 yards on those 11 runs– 3.2 per carry. Austin Davis had 132 yards on 23 attempts. That’s a miserable 5.7 yards per pass (it’s supposed to be between 7 and 7.5). But it does’t count the 4 sacks for 34 yards.

Refigure it as 98 yards on 27 plays, and you have a more accurate 3.62 yards net yards per pass.

All in all, they threw 46 times– 55 times if we count the seven sacks and two scrambles (one of Davis’s three runs was a quarterback sneak)– and ran 21.

Maybe, when the Marx Brothers– that’s Jimmo, Sashop, Deeo and Jeddo– interview head coaching candidates, one of their questions can be “Are you actually going to run the ball? Or are you just going to talk about it during your first press conference and then ashcan it, like all the other rummies the team hires?”

The Browns finished 11th in total pass attempts and 27th in rushing attempts. Here’s the last five seasons where they didn’t rank 20th or lower in rushing attempts:

  • 2014 (7-9 record, sixth in rushing attempts. Mike Pettine coach; Kyle Shanahan coordinator)
  • 2009 (5-11; sixth. Eric Mangini coach, Brian Daboll coordinator)
  • 2007 (10-6; 16th. Romeo Crennel coach, Rob Chudzynski coordinator)
  • 2004 (4-12; 16th. Butch Davis/Terry Robiskie head coach, Robiskie/Chudsynski coordinators)
  • 1994 (10-6; 13th. Bill Belichick coach; Steve Crosby coordinator)

Other than the 2004 season (where they lost) and the 2002 season (where they went 9-7, but ranked 26th in carries), that’s every successful year they had. The season with Mangini was the one where they won four straight and looked like they might turn into something.

It’s not like I want to exhume Wayne Woodrow Hayes and bring back “three yards and a cloud of dust.” But when the opponent knows you can’t or won’t run (or you do it so badly you can’t hurt them), it makes playing defense very easy.

2. The Steelers have all their receivers, but they’re playing behind a patchwork line. The Browns come up with two down linemen and five defensive backs.

You can argue that it worked, in that the Browns got two interceptions and kept the score close until Davis fumbled on his own 8 with 10:59 left in the fourth quarter. At that point it was 17-12, and the Browns had chances to take the lead.

Or you can point out that Ben Roethlisberger:

  • Threw for 107 yards and a 94.6 rating in the first quarter
  • Threw for 120 yards and a 130.9 rating in the second quarter
  • Got to throw, thanks to the Browns’ long drives, only 5 passes in the third quarter (one being the interception), giving him 66 yards and a 39.6 rating
  • Threw only 7 passes in the fourth, but gained 56 yards and had a 134.5 rating

When the opponent takes the lead and never loses it– and the quarterback appears to be in complete command for three of the four quarters– it’s hard to argue that your strategy was too successful.

The Browns had no sacks and only one quarterback hit. Even after DeAngelo Williams left the game for keeps with an ankle injury, they didn’t go after Roethlisberger.

3. Terrelle Pryor played a pretty miserable game. He did get a 42-yard pass late in the second quarter to set up a field goal that cut the margin to 14-9. But it was the only pass he caught on six targets– and two of the incompletions were drops. He also committed an illegal shift penalty– and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that moved the ball back from the Pittsburgh 5 to the 20.

After the game Pettine acknowledges that he looked decent and that maybe if he got a little more time, he might develop. This from the coach of the 3-13 team that needed help at receiver all season and was playing people like Marlon Moore and Darius Jennings.

Well, enough about Pettine. Can you guys manage to ask me even three questions about the game?

Would you keep Austin Davis?
He looked terrible in both starts.

You know, I would love to see Dennis Manoloff write a review of the Cleveland Ballet’s performance of Raimonda. He’s a writer. He’s been in Cleveland for years. There’s no reason he couldn’t have studied the ballet company and been prepared to write about them when he was called upon to do so.

Davis didn’t have a good game– he had the “Deer in the headlights” stare and got hit way too often. But this is ridiculous. The way Pettine set things up, the backups got zero work (other than running the scout team) until they’re names starters. He had a patchwork line, arenaball receivers, a stupid game plan and a defense out for his blood. Every time the Steelers ran a stunt, Cam Erving missed the switch.

If he had played well, I’d be arguing that the Browns should start him in 2016 and use the #3 pick to fix all the other issues. Yes, you keep him. But you try to develop him more than just saying “Make sure you’re ready.”

The guy has played quarterback for Jeff Fisher and Mike Pettine. It’s amazing that he can even complete a pass.

Why didn’t the Browns try to
get Barnidge and Benjamin more involved?

They threw to them 24 times– how much more did you want?

Barnidge was pretty much covered all the time. I would have liked to see them get him a touchdown, but Pittsburgh wasn’t going to let him burn them deep.

Benjamin dropped a bunch of balls. He just isn’t that great a receiver.

Did anything about the game disappoint you?

Compared to my expectations? Something that isn’t likely to be fixed in the set of purges? Hmmmm….

I didn’t think the running game had been fixed… but it would have been nice to see that it had. One of the big problems for incoming head coach Andy Moeller will be trying to decide what to do.

You can argue for giving Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson another season. but they both had bad years. Crowell, who took a couple of shots at the coaches in the last few weeks, clearly feels he didn’t get enough work. I’d agree, but he did finish 21st in carries with 185, it’s not like he never got to play. He had seven games where he got less than 3.0 yards a carry– five where he had less than 2, and one where he actually had negative yardage on six tries.

Johnson was a rookie, but he still averaged only 3.6 a carry. As a receiver, he actually had fewer yards per catch (8.8) than Crowell (9.6).

Even though they have spent two #3 picks in the draft, If Moeller sees a back he likes in the draft, he’ll have to ask Jimmo to ask GMO to ask Sasho if maybe they can draft another. Or maybe sign someone.

Andy Moeller? Who’s he?

The drunken horndog line coach who got fired after his ex-girlfriend called the Berea Police. He was pretty good at teaching blocking, and the players liked him. If the Browns hire him, it might convince Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz to stay.

Also, Moeller has never been a head coach. Gregg Williams has, but he went 17-31 in three seasons with Buffalo, and I wasn’t impressed by his offense. His defenses were good… though if he can’t pay a bounty, that might set things back.

Joe Philbin was only 24-28— two 8-8 seasons a 7-9 year and then the bad start. You could argue that he deserves another chance. But his handling of Richie Incognito was enough to sour me on him permanently.

Finally, Jerry Sandusky is 71, he’s never coached in the NFL and it might be tough for the browns to swing his release.

You’re joking…

Not to the degree I wish I were. Normally, Norv Turner is a candidate for any opening, but he’s still p.o.ed about how the Browns treated him. Ditto Ray Horton.

I dunno, maybe Chud would come back.

Geoff, they won’t settle for any laughing-stock retread.

The decision won’t be up to them.

If you’re confused about the import of what Jimmy Haslam did– or you don’t agree with my take— I suggest you watch this video by Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. Florio runs one of the NFL’s two gossip columns, and he usually does know what people are saying.

He was also an employment lawyer before he started his site. When he talks about anything related to the basic agreement, I pay very close attention.

In the video he seconds what I said– no coach in his right mind will come to a team where a lawyer with no experience in personnel is running personnel. This goes way past “I want to be my own GM”— it gets into “If I can’t be my own GM, can I at least work with a real General Manager– someone who is qualified?”

Florio also makes a point I hadn’t thought of. A General Manager normally has authority over the 53-man roster. If he does not have that control, he is not, by commonly-accepted standard, the general manager.

According to the NFL rules, if an employee is under contract, a team can refuse to let him leave until the contract expires. They can ask for compensation, and if they don’t care for the offer, they can hold the employee to his contract.

What about Kyle Shanahan?

The Browns let him leave. They didn’t want an employee who didn’t want to be there.

At any rate, while a team can keep an employee under contract, they cannot prevent him from interviewing for a position that would be a promotion. That provision exists so employees can determine whether they could be hired by another team.

Why would you ever have a rule like that?

To prevent franchise from playing mind games with their competitors– from telling some other team’s coordinator “I’d hire you in a second, but I know your boss won’t let you leave.” Suddenly the coordinator feels like he lost out on a job and he isn’t working as hard as he used to.

The rule prevents that dodge. The coordinator knows the team can ask for permission to hire him– and if they really want to hire him, offer compensation.

It works the same way for position coaches and coordinator interviews. Or for personnel guys and GM spots.

So what does this have to do with the Browns?

Since Sasho Marx has control of the roster, the Browns can’t use the rule to demand an interview with a team’s personnel chief. The team can say “It’s a lateral promotion– it’s exempt. You can’t hire our personnel guy to be your personnel guy.”

That cuts off a huge pool of people.

But suppose the guy wants to be GM of the Browns?

Why would he? Why would anyone in his right mind want the job the Browns are offering?

They have 11 draft picks, including #2 and #32,
plus a ton of cap room–

Which the new hire will not have final authority to use without permission. Sasho will do that– with maybe Jimmo (or even Marco, the team president) telling Sasho what to do.

Plus, the coach might or might not play the people the GM does get. Since the coach won’t be reporting to him, the coach can do whatever he feels like. The ‘GM’ will just get to make suggestions that might or might not be taken. But he will take 100% of the blame if the choice that gets made doesn’t work out.

Also, the Browns have a nasty habit of losing 75% of their games and firing the ‘General Manager’ every other year. Or every year. Or, in one case, in mid-year.

So then you get fired, and nobody ever wants to hire you again, because they don’t know if what happened in Cleveland was your fault or not… and why take the risk, anyway?

You don’t know that.

Actually I do. I spoke to two people who worked for NFL teams. They’re not GMs, but like everyone working for a team, they dream of running a team someday. One couldn’t believe I was serious. The other was scornful. “Come to Cleveland and be the next George Kokinis or Phil Neri– there’s an offer it’s easy to refuse.”

Who?

Kokinis was the GM the Browns hired the last time the owner hired the coach first and then tried to hire the GM. He was going to work with Eric Mangini, kinda like John McVay did for Bill Walsh, or Scott Pioli did with Bill Belichick. (Or like John Schneider does with Pete Carroll, to update the patter to 2015.)

Kokinis came over from Baltimore, where he was Ozzie Newsome’s #2 or maybr #3 guy. He got screwed. Mangini refused to listen to anything Kokinis said, and he put a psycho bitch named Dawn Aponte in charge of administration (whom he’d brought over from the Jets) to ensure that nothing Kokinis tried to do got done without Mangini’s say-so. Mangini ignored Kokinis’s draft board. Kokinis brought in free agents and the team wouldn’t make offers. Meanwhile they signed people Kokinis didn’t even know were coming in.

He tried to fight, but he kept getting outmaneuvered. Eventually he just stopped trying to do his job. It got so bad that Lerner finally fired both Kokinis and Aponte and hired Mike Holmgren.

Ozzie Newsome rehired Kokinis, but he wouldn’t give him his old job back. For one thing, Ozzie values loyalty, for another he’d promoted other people. So Kokinis is on the fringe. He doesn’t get any other interviews and he won’t get the job when Ozzie retires.

The Browns won’t get anyone from Baltimore, or anyone who knows and likes Kokinis. That cuts out people from New England as well.

Neri was Cleveland’s “Director of College Scouting” when Butch Davis was hired. He was the sap trying to tell Davis to take LaDanian Tomlinson– or if he had to have a defensive tackle, to take Richard Seymour over Gerard Warren. Then he said “Don’t take William Green– he’s a head case.” Eventually he got whacked out and the best job he could get has been regional scout for the Titans.

Coaches get second chances, no matter how badly things go. If they go to a winning team for a few years, someone always decides maybe they got a raw deal. Believe it or not. the Eagles are interviewing Pat Shurmur.

A GM who gets whacked virtually never gets another shot, unless the team he was running won for a few years or he gives great interview. Nobody good will come.

You don’t really think Sashi Brown
really intends to make draft picks, do you?

I am not as good a Christian as Terry Pluto is. I do not assume the best of people, unless there is some reason to believe they merit it. The Browns hired Carmen Policy and let him tell Dwight Clark what to do. The Browns hired Mike Holmgren– a dismal failure as a GM– and let him tell Tom Heckert what to do.

Jimmy Haslam hired Joe Banner– an uppity bean counter– and gave him final authority over the 53-man roster. Why would I not believe he would do the same thing with Sashi Brown?

Why would I not believe that Brown, given that power, would choose not to exercise it?

Because Brown is not Joe Banner and–

Listen to me. Brown isn’t merely a lawyer. He worked for Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr. You might not know those names, but I do. Lloyd Cutler was one of the 3-4 Washington lawyers you got when you needed to fix things–up there with Tommy Corcoran, Abe Fortas and Clark Clifford. When his firm wanted to start a securities practice, they hired a former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Joseph Welch, one of the partners in the firm, was the guy who chewed up Joe McCarthy at the Army hearings. Ever seen the movie A Civil Action? Robert Duvall– the lawyer who defeats John Travolta in court– was playing one of their partners.

You don’t get to be even a moderately senior guy at a firm like that without being an extreme Type A personality– someone who kills opponents with his or her bare hands and eats their livers raw. You set an objective and you pursue it relentlessly. Terry writes “I’m told that Brown has a gift of helping people to work together, something the Browns desperately need.” I refuse to believe it.

I am sure Brown will listen to advice– lawyers that senior always rely on experts– but he’ll make the decision. And once Brown makes up his mind, the subject is closed.

Anyway, even if he is brilliant, the applicants won’t bet their careers that he won’t interfere.

What if they can get a really good coach?

Why would a really good coach come here? He won’t have control of the roster– he’ll be begging two other people to make the moves he wants. That is good– I do not believe a coach should have control of the roster, except in exceptional cases. But not being able to offer it– and not knowing who the GM might end up being will be a hitch.

He will know– he’ll have a role in picking the GM.

He won’t know who that GM will be when he signs the contract. He’ll have to lock himself in– and then hope the team can hire someone qualified.

Suppose you’re Adam Gase. You sign a five-year deal as coach… and then the team spends six weeks trying to find a GM and nobody wants it. Finally Jimmy comes to you and says “Listen, we can’t get anyone else and we need to prepare for the draft. How about we hire Bill Kuharich back?”

Couldn’t the coach serve as GM?

He’ll still need a personnel guy. He can’t do the scouting himself. And, while Mike Holmgren might find this hard to believe, some people are not uncontrollable egomaniacs. Some coaches like to work with a gifted GM– to let them view tape of tight ends at Montana State while he tries to convince Nate Orchard not to run wherever the blocker seems to be diverting him.

The Browns are far more likely to get a good coach than a decent GM. The guy they get to run personnel will almost certainly be a guy who knows that a good team will never, ever hire him as GM– even in title only.

I would be thrilled to come to Cleveland

As opposed to where? I wouldn’t go near Miami, because Steve Ross is as bad as Haslam– actually worse, since he’d been doing it longer. But the weather is better and it is easier to attract players there.

San Francisco has had waaaaaayyyyyy too much chaos for my tastes. But it’s California and they were winning a lot of games not long ago.

And if we get to the desirable jobs… I mean, why wouldn’t, say, Adam Gase want the Giants job? Jeff Lurie made a mistake with Chip Kelly, but before that, the Eagles were a great place to work. Tennessee is unknown; Bud Adams died and his daughter might or might not be sane. But that’s better than a known snake pit.

Plus you have Sean Payton wanting out of New Orleans, Jim Caldwell very likely leaving Detroit after they hire a GM, and probably Chuck Pagano leaving Indy. There will be plenty of places for a good coach to work.

Wouldn’t a good coach help attract a GM? 

Other than Payton, what coach would convince a good candidate to come to Cleveland?

Plus, both a prospective coach and GM will wonder who will be making the final calls. I mean, ask yourself why the coach reports to Haslam, but the GM reports to Brown? Why would you create that separation? No other team in the NFL does that. To my knowledge, no team in professional sports does it.

Well, wouldn’t it… Um…

I’ll tell you the real advantage of having the coach report up to the owner, while the personnel guy reports to Brown– and Brown reports to Haslam: Deniability. This setup makes things very easy for Haslam to tell Brown “Hey, the coach wants this– do it.” So far as Brown knows, the coach will want it.

Wouldn’t a smart lawyer ask the coach?

Or maybe a smart lawyer would know better than to ask the coach.

A smart lawyer might know that even smart lawyers don’t get put in charge of NFL teams. He might have agreed to take the job knowing that part of the price is letting the owner make some of the decisions.

Well I’m gonna look on the bright side.

You do that… let me know how it works for you. I’m pretty sure the implications of what Haslam has done haven’t fully sunk in. When that happens, I’ll probably have a follow-up post.

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