Since the Browns played San Diego last year– and I produced a profile that covered the team history back to 2001– there isn’t a great deal of new information I can say about the team. But I’ll try to summarize it briefly.
When people write about the Browns, they often claim that the big problem in Cleveland is lack of stability. The Chargers are living proof that stability isn’t everything. Since GM John Butler died of cancer two years after he began rebuilding the team, the Chargers have had two general managers and three coaches in the last 14 years:
GM #1 (A.J. Smith): San Diego promoted Butler’s longtime assistant, A.J. Smith– who wasn’t nearly as competent. Smith went 50-30 in his first five seasons, when he was working with the players Butley had bequeathed him.
He went 45-30 in his last five. That looks great, but it’s an average of 9-7 and 8-8– and it was in the very weak AFC West.
Coach #1 (Marty Schottenheimer): Smith Inherited Marty, who had turned a 5-11 team into an 8-8 team. Marty went 47-33 before his habit of losing first-round playoff games convinced Smith he could do a lot better.
Coach #2 (Norv Turner): The idea behind this move was that Turner would eliminate Marty’s conservative offensive tendencies, while Marty’s defensive coordinator (Wade Phillips) would make the defense even stronger without Marty dialing him back.
It was a dumb idea for two reasons, first, while Turner is a fine coordinator, he’d failed as a head coach in both Washington and Oakland– his career record when he came to San Diego was 58-82.
Second, Phillips wasn’t happy that Marty had been fired– and was even more annoyed that he’d been passed over for the head coaching job. He left for Dallas and the Chargers were stuck with Turner.
Turner went 56-40 in six years– 32-16 when he was working with Marty’s players and 24-24 when working with his own.
At this point, owner Alex Spanos fired both Smith and Turner and brought it the team that has been running the Chargers for the last four years– and is 27-35 (two seasons of 9-7, then 4-12 and currently 5-9). Both are good examples of people who were wildly overrated.
GM #2 Tom Telesco: Telesco had spent 15 years with the Colts– college scout in 1998, NFL scout from 2001-03, Director of Pro Scouting in 2004-05 and Director of Player Personnel in 2006-12.
The Colts went 151-73 over those 14 years. The Chargers assumed someone who was with them during that time– had been promoted three times– must have been substantially responsible for the results.
The problem with that assumption is that there were a lot of talented people there– GM Bill Polian, coaches Jim Mora, Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell, and the players they acquired: Payton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James, Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
Teleso, based on his picks, is an OK, but not great talent guy. Of his 25 draft picks, 12 have been starters and only one (CB Jason Verrett) has been to a Pro Bowl. His supporters point out that many of his picks have been hurt– especially this season– but there hasn’t been anyone incredible.
Take WR Keenan Allen (who is on IR). In his first season, he had 71 catches for 1,046 yards and 8 scores, and seemed like he would be a great one. He’s had 783 and 725 yards– both with 4 TDs. Better than anyone on the Browns, but not really a #1.
RB Melvin Gordon has a bad hip and won’t play. He’s been channneling Trent Richardson– 1,600 carries in 27 games (what they were hoping he’s do ibn one year), with 10 TDs and a 3.7-yard average.
DE Joey Bosa– who will play– was the third pick in the draft. He has 7.5 sacks– one of each of his last three games. Maybe he only has 20 tackles and 11 assists because he’s a slow starter. But he was supposed to be Superman, and he hasn’t been. Their #2 pick, TE Hunter Henry (32 catches on 48 targets, 435 yards, 7 TDs) is arguably a better player.
They still have QB Phillip Rivers– but he hasn’t looked comfortable for years. Let me finish my backstory now.
Head Coach #3 (Mike McCoy): He’s another guy who wouldn’t have been hired if San Diego had done its due diligence. He was QB coach in Carolina from 2000-08 under John Fox. He left for Denver in 2009-10, to serve as coordinator under Josh McDaniels.
That was a disaster (those were the Kyle Orton-Tim Tebow teams), and when McDaniels was canned, most new coaches would have pitched out McCoy. But Denver hired Fox, who decided to keep his former employee around.
So McCoy got to coach again in 2011– and then the Broncos brought in Peyton Manning. Everyone assumed, for reasons passing understanding, that McCoy was responsible for the offensive explosion, and he parlayed it into a job with the Chargers.
Rivers is still a good player, but he led the NFL in interceptions in 2014 (18) and he’s leading the league in picks again this year. if McCoy is a gifted tutor of quarterbacks, I don’t see any evidence.
Anyway, McCoy is 27-25 and it’s very difficult to see what positive impact he’s had. Here are the bottom line figures for the Chargers:
- 2013 (9-7): 12th in points scored, 11th in points allowed
- 2014 (9-7): 17th in points, 13th in points allowed
- 2015 (4-12): 26th in offense (20.0 per game), 21st in defense (24.9)
- 2016 (5-9): 4th in offense (26.1), 29th in defense (26.1)
They are already a win better, so there’s that. Also, when a team scores as many as it allows, they really ought to be a .500 team. It usually means either a tough schedule or bad luck– and that is evident in San Diego:
- Four of San Diego’s five wins have come against teams who might make the playoffs: Denver, Atlanta, Tennessee and Houston. The only gimme is Jacksonville.
- San Diego has played eight close games (decided by a touchdown or less) and lost seven: Oakland (three points both times), Kansas City (six, in overtime), Indianapolis (by four), New Orleans (by one), and by seven to both Miami and Tampa. The only team who isn’t .500 or better is New Orleans (6-8).
I could make a good case for keeping McCoy. If they had just broke even in the close games, they’d be 8-6 now. They might be a season away from breaking loose.
But I don’t really believe it. Rivers is 35 and the minute he goes, you’re challenging teh Browns for worst pick. Unless you like WRs Tyrell Williams (59 catches for 925 yards and 6 TDs) or Dontrelle Inman (51-715-4), the receiving corps isn’t that hot (remember, the Chargers felt they needed Travis Benjamin).
Bosa (7.5 sacks), LB Melvin Ingram (7.0) and Verrett (who’s out for the year) might be part of a defense; CB Casey Heyward is leading the NFL in picks with seven. Mostly it’s a bunch of guys in their late 20’s.
My guess is that McCoy and Telesco can save their jobs if they beat Cleveland and win against Kansas City at home. That would give them seven wins– three more than they had last year– and all the clsoe losses make it pretty easy to argue they deserve one more year.
If they don’t win out, they’re probably gone– and that is probably how it should be. Patience is a virtue only when you have reason to be patient.
It took a while, but the roster is beginning to move into career preservation mode. Joe Haden, who is having a terrible year, and is wildly overpaid (he’d be overpaid if he were staring in the Pro Bowl) has announced that he will have surgery at the end of the year. We don’t appreciate how much pain he’s been going through.
First Terrelle Pryor has a finger injury and probably won’t play. But as the volume of criticism about his behavior increases, he will. Ex-teammate Brian Hartline (who played with him both at OSU and with the Browns) blasted his character and it is difficult to disagree with anything he says.
Look, Pryor is 27. He busted out as a quarterback by 2013, but spent 2014 and part of 2015 trying to stick. Every week, he gets blasted by opponents– not sterling citizens, but not people who constantly sound off. He hasn’t played that well, and it would be risky to give him a long-term deal and hope he’ll get even better.
Robert Griffin has said things– and Hue Jackson said he might not finish the game if he plays as badly as he has. Josh McCown says he might retire. It’s radio silence from Jamie Collins and some of the other players the Browns might want to re-sign.
One senses this team is about to come unglued, and it is only a matter of time. Maybe losing to San Diego– the last winnable game by any standards– will be the fuse.
People talking about this game as a likely win are– whatever else they say– simply hoping that intangibles trump tangibles. San Diego has won five games and beaten good teams.
They’ve come close to winning others. They have lost three straight, but by a total margin of 12 points.– to teams with 8, 6 and 11 wins. The Browns lost last week by 20 points.
Maybe the weather will be so bad that it wipes out San Diego’s passing game. Maybe the Chargers will hate the cold. Maybe San Diego (who have an amazing 27 takeaways, but an appalling 32 giveaways) really don’t want to keep McCoy. Maybe the Browns– who keep saying they don’t like losing– will play like they mean it.
The reality is that the Chargers can stop the run (opponents have 3.8 per carry) and the Browns never run anyway. The Chargers force opponents into mistakes. They have a rookie with 7.5 sacks coming into the region where he played college ball. He’s facing an opponent that allows sacks by the bushel. The Chargers have a return man (Benjamin) who wants to get even with teh Browns– and the Browns have terrible kick coverage teams.
The Browns have a quarterback who hasn’t played well– and knows he’s a few bad plays from being replaced. They’re going to be in front of a hostile crowd.
I can see a win, but not based on anything I can measure. So I wouldn’t bet that way.
San Diego 31, Cleveland 10