Browns Preview: Game 3 (@Miami)

Opponent Preview

As long as Jimmy Haslam owns the Browns, there is no way Miami’s Steve Ross will ever win the tile of “NFL’s Worst Owner.” His record (49-65; .430, best record is two seasons of 8-8) certainly won’t qualify.

But among people within the NFL, he’s genuinely hated. As a consultant, I can certainly understand why.

Ross is, the majority of the time, an absentee owner. Unlike a good owner (a successful businessman who tries to offer insight to help this business run well), he doesn’t give his management team any help about 90% of the time.

An example of his approach: A prospective GM asked him what type of team he wanted. It’s s a boilerplate question, intended to elicit a short speech about the expectations. Does he want to do a full rebuild or try to win ASAP? Does he want to build through the draft or through signings and trades? Is he looking for local players who can sell tickets? Good character guys? Does he want to win with offense or defense? Big plays– or blue collar stuff?

Ross allegedly looked at him like it was the stupidest question he had ever heard. “I want a A winning one. I don’t care how it happens. That’s your job.”

If there is a problem– or a decision– Ross usually isn’t available. When Richie Incognito was harassing Jonathan Martin, neither coach Joe Philbin nor GM Jeff Ireland could get Ross to weigh in. But Ross expects to be informed in advance about every major move. And he’ll sometimes overrule his GM or coach, without explaining why or telling them what he wants done instead.

Ross inherited a reasonably good situation when he took over in 2009: Bill Parcells as team president, Ireland as GM and Tony Sparano as coach. Parcells bailed in 2010, Sparano was fired in 2011 and Ireland left in 2013.


Here’s another indication of Ross’s acumen. Sparano was fired in mid-season, with the team at 4-9. Firing a coach in mid-season is now considered to be enormously foolish. A team can’t make trades or bring up players from the minors, so the roster can’t change. With very rare exceptions, all the competent coaches are already working for other teams.

The one reason to make a change: If you think one of his assistants might make a good head coach and you want to see what he can do.

Miami didn’t promote offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Understandable, since he was Eric Mangini’s former offensive coordinator in Cleveland. They declined to promote defensive coordinator Mike Nolan (also logical– he went 18-37 with the 49ers from 2005-08).

The coach they promoted was defensive backfield coach Todd Bowles, who went 2-1. Bowles received an interview after the season, but was never seriously considered for the job. Rumor had it that Bowles was promoted only because he was black– so they could satisfy both the Rooney Rule and the “interview the interim guy” custom.

The Dolphisn picked Joe Philbin, who went 24-28 before being fired– also in mid-season. Bowles spent a season working for Andy Reid (where he was promoted to coordinator in mid-season), two seasons coordinating Arizona’s the defense for Bruce Arians and is now coaching the Jets (where he went 10-6 last year and is 1-1 now).

Oops….


Miami is now viewed as a toxic situation– an “win now” environment with an erratic owner. When Ross tried to replace Ireland after 2013, New England’s Nick Casserio turned the GM job down.  Lake Dawson of Tennessee also said “No.” Sadly, Ray Farmer (Cleveland’s assistant GM at the time) withdrew from consideration before Ross could make him an offer– making him available for promotion by Haslam.

Ross hired Dennis Hickey from the Bucs– then fired him after the team went 14-18 in two years. They didn’t even try to get a GM this time, promoting director of college scouting Chris Grier.

I have no idea why Adam Gase decided to become the coach. It might be an illustration of how prone the NFL is to fashion.

A few years ago, Gase was “Next Great Head Coach.” He was the Broncos’ receivers coach (2009-10) under Josh McDaniels, then quarterbacks coach (2011-12) and offensive coordinator (2013-14) under John Fox. People imagined Gase– not Payton Manning– was responsible for the huge number of points scored between 2012-14. Many teams (including the Browns) tried and failed to hire him.

Gase’s career suffered a major setback when John Elway pitched Fox after 2014– and the Broncos won it all (never mind why.)  Gase followed Fox to Chicago, where he was supposed to help the 5-11 team elevate its  #23-ranked offense. It finished 23rd again, scoring 16 more points.

Maybe Miami was the best assignment he could get.  It’s a suicidal assignment that will destroy his career– he won’t win here.

Over the off-season, Miami (as it usually does) traded picks away to move up in the draft to get player, signed or acquired high-profile players, while other players escaped. They signed 31-year-old DE-LB Mario Williams (who complained about having to drop into coverage last year), while letting 26-year-old Olivier Vernon (arguably a better player at this point) escape. RB Lamar Miller, who had given them four pretty good years (2,930 yards and 4.6 per carry) departed; oft-injured RB Arian Foster joined the club.

Last year they signed TE Jordan “Poke” Cameron, without realizing that he doesn’t block and DT Ndumakong Shoe, without realizing that he does whatever he feels like.

Miami is 0-2, and the best you can say about that is:

  • They lost both games by less than a touchdown
  • The teams who beat them (Seattle 12-10; New England 31-24) have very good reputations.

The reality is that the Foster is hurt (naturally), QB Ryan Tannehill and WR Jarvis Landry both seem lost in the new offense and last season’s 6-10 record looks like a stretch.

Browns Preview

The Cody “Trust Me” Kessler era begins today. “Trust me on this”, if you remember,  was Hue Jackson’s response to all the people wondering why the Browns drafted him in round #3, rather round 6, 7 or even not at all.

It;s a sign of how underwhelming Kessler played in pre-season that nobody seems excited by this.

The spin about Kessler– that he wasn’t supposed to play this soon– is blown up by a fairly obvious point: Since both Robert Griffin and Josh McCown were exceptionally high injury risks, this event was entirely predictable.

It is fair to say that some of the injuries could not have been predicted. The Browns will be missing:

  • DE Carl Nassib
  • WR Corey Coleman
  • K Patrick Murray
  • SS Ibraheim Campbell
  • C Cameron Erving

But injuries, as I always point out, permit a team to see what the players on their bench can do. Nassib’s injury gives snaps to #2 picks Emmanuel Ogbah (2016) and Nate Orchard (2015). The Browns drafted WR Ricardo Louis and SS Derrick Kindred in the fourth round and WR Rashard Higgins and Jordan Payton. With the return of LB Armonty Bryand and WR Puff Gordon only two weeks away, isn’t this an excellent opportunity for a team that claims it is committed to rebuilding to see what its first draft class can contribute?

To repeat myself: Cleveland spend a #3 pick on T Shon Coleman and a #5 pick on Spencer Drango. If the Browns really will become a Moneyball-driven, “Build Through The Draft” club, players like these should begin to contribute early, and perform well. When castoffs like Austin Pasztor (at right tackle) and Alvin Bailey (right guard) are starting, that’s not a good sign.

Wins and losses, we have been told, are not the goal for the next 2-3 years. Given that fact, there should be no reason not to let the future begin now.

Game Preview

With pass rushers like Williams, Suh and Cameron Wake lining up on defense– against a rookie quarterback behind a damaged line– the Browns need to emphasize the running game. If they don’t give Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson 30 carries, they risk getting Kessler killed.

Kessler’s arm is too weak to throw long– but the Browns have enough short receivers to make a spread-style strategy work. Crowell, Johnson, TE Gary Barnidge and WR Andrew Hawkins ought to give him enough options.

It’s not a secret what the Dolphins will do. Foster is out and fifth-round pick Jay Ajayi (5-14) is the next man up. Tannehill is leading the team in rushing.

But Tannehill has been a good player at time, Landry made the Pro Bowl and DeVante Parker was the #1 pick in 2015. Miami will throw.

The Browns ought to be able to get pressure– except that Miami has only allowed the Seahawks and Patriots 5 sacks on 74 throws. And the Browns have only two this year.

Game Prediction

Miami is 0-2, and the pressure is already on Gase. This game should take a fair amount off. Dolphins 38, Browns 3. 

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