The Cleveland Browns are really, really, really bad
But what does this mean for new head coach Hue Jackson?
If the Cleveland Browns were merely bad, it wouldn’t be newsworthy. Being bad, after all, is what the Browns do. But this season, they’re an especially hot mess.
- For the first time in franchise history, Cleveland is 0-10;
- Dating to last season, the team has lost 13 consecutive games – also a new franchise low;
- The Browns have been spectacularly inept on defense (when a group has given up at least 25 points in every game, there’s nothing positive going down);
- No evidence has surfaced to suggest that the Browns are inching closer to solving their 18-season riddle at quarterback;
- And Cleveland – which plays host to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday – will miss the playoffs for the 14th straight season.
If all of that seems bleak to you, imagine how head coach Hue Jackson must feel. Hired to pull the Browns from the dumpster, Jackson has fallen into it with them. The Browns have had so many dunderheaded breakdowns on defense, it’s fair to ask: Is anyone coaching these dudes?
Players, however, have given the detail-oriented Jackson – one of only five African-American head coaches in the NFL – solid marks. Veterans say that, despite the team’s weekly flops, Jackson has the Browns pointed in a better direction than they have been in years. Although the Browns have yet to provide visible signs of progress (heck, even one would do wonders for long-suffering Browns fans), Jackson is undeterred. He’s still as confident as ever that, eventually, he’ll lead a major turnaround. Now would be a great time to start.
Jackson acknowledges that the optics have been awful, and “it starts with me,” he said. “We have to coach better, get them [players] to play better and put them in better situations. That is just what it is. There are some things that I know we can do better, and we will do better, but there are things that keep rearing its ugly head. We just have to get it right.”
On defense, the Browns have gotten it all wrong.
Among the league’s 32 teams, the Browns have given up the most total net yards and points. Spanning the past two seasons, Cleveland has given up at least 25 points in its last 11 games, the second-longest streak in league history, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Denver Broncos had a 13-game streak during the 1963 and ’64 seasons. Trust us: The Browns are totally capable of shattering the Broncos’ mark.
Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden has tried to remain upbeat, but “it’s tough. It’s super tough,” he said. “We don’t play these games to lose. We don’t prepare during the week to lose. It sucks. We have to stand up.
“We have to step up. It is us. There’s nobody else that can do anything but the players on the field. We have to keep the ball in front of us. We have to make sure we make tackles. We just have to play better.”
Smarter, too. Definitely smarter.
Mistakes are part of the game. Every team makes them. Even the New England Patriots. The Browns, though, routinely commit the most head-scratching gaffes you’ll ever see. Check out what happened against the Dallas Cowboys. In a 35-10 Week 9 road win, Dallas rookie quarterback Dak Prescott threw three touchdown passes to three different uncovered receivers. Three busted coverages all resulting in touchdowns in one game. What’s the deal with that, coach?
“It could be communication,” said Jackson, immediately going to the top answer on my list. “It could be, all of the sudden, somebody did not get it. Bottom line, we did not cover them. Whether it is communication, whether it is misalignment, or whatever it is, it still leads to the same thing – which is them scoring.”
Watching the Browns’ offense hasn’t brightened Jackson’s mood much, either.
Cleveland’s instability at quarterback has made it impossible to develop consistency on offense. In their first three games, the Browns started three different quarterbacks. Of course, that wasn’t Jackson’s plan entering the season.
Jackson tabbed Robert Griffin III to be Cleveland’s starter. Jackson figured he could revive Griffin’s career after the Washington Redskins released the 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in March. The Browns’ 25th starting signal-caller since 1999, Griffin hoped to become only the second one to produce a winning record during that span. Unfortunately for the Browns and Griffin, as is often the case with this franchise, it all blew up quickly.
Late in a season-opening loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Griffin suffered a broken bone in his nonpassing shoulder. The former Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor hasn’t played since, though he recently was medically cleared for noncontact activities.
You could argue that Jackson wasted energy trying to rebuild Griffin, who failed under two coaching regimes in Washington. Then again, why not take a chance on Griffin?
Since 2013, the Browns have had three front-office makeovers. The management carousel left the roster in a state of disrepair. If Griffin had made it all the way back, the Browns would have been in much better shape at quarterback. On that one, I get the Browns’ thinking. Their decision to trade the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft – which the Philadelphia Eagles used to pick Carson Wentz – is harder to justify.
The Browns weren’t impressed enough with Wentz, who is having a strong rookie season, to select him so high. Nothing wrong there. It makes no sense to pick a guy if you don’t think he’ll be the guy.
The problem is, although it’s still way early, it sure looks like the Browns blew it on Wentz. You can certainly understand why Browns fans are feeling a certain type of way about the team’s highly questionable decision to trade out of the pick.
This is the same organization that passed on future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a native of Findlay, Ohio, in the 2004 draft. Instead of taking Roethlisberger at No. 6 overall, the Browns chose tight end Kellen Winslow. With the 11th pick, the Steelers scooped up Roethlisberger. Granted, the football operations people who made that Ohio-sized mistake left the building long ago. Still, you get why the Wentz decision stirs bad memories.
Here’s the other thing: Although the Browns acquired picks in the Wentz deal that could, theoretically, help them bolster the roster, why should fans have any confidence in Browns officials to get it right after they fumbled in the previous draft? Meanwhile, the losses keep mounting. Amid negativity everywhere, players try to remain positive. It’s just as hard as you would think.
“Every loss, it stacks up. Makes it tougher,” perennial All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas said. “But your job is to perform as well as you can on Sundays. You just have to be able to move past that and focus on doing what you can to try to get a win. That’s all you can do.”
The Browns will keep trying. Actually succeeding is where they usually fall short.