Usually, when a personnel head is fired, this signals that wholesale changes are in store for a football organization, including in the coaching department. One would think the Browns, given their historic ineptitude both on and off the field over the past two seasons, would follow this precedent and start anew. However, this does not seem to be the case.
With the announcement that Excecutive VP Sashi Brown would be let go on Thursday, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam gave a somewhat perplexing vote of confidence to head coach Hue Jackson, saying that he would stay onboard for the 2018 season.
This endorsement of Jackson was extremely surprising, but makes sense when the situation is examined closer.
The on-field product for the Browns has been absolutely putrid and downright embarassing, almost certainly among the worst it’s been in years. However, some progress has been made since last season, which can be attributed to efforts by both the front office and the coaching staff.
Yes, Sashi Brown whiffed on fairly sizable number of moves in his role, most notably at quarterback.
These moves include passing on Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson in favor of stockpiling more draft picks, the RG3 experiment and failing to complete a trade for Bengals’ A.J. McCarron before the deadline this year.
These choices, particularly the failed trade, have left a stench of failure and embarassment over the organization, which ultimately fell to Jackson to rectify. Safe to say, he has not, given the 1-27 record during his tenure.
However, after the debacle that was the Browns’ 2016 season, Brown did well to bring in a number of new players, while also ensuring the long-term status of several franchise cornerstones.
Via free agency, he acquired guard Kevin Zeitler and cornerback Jason McCourty, who has been rated the 10th best cornerback by Pro Football Focus this year.
He drafted defensive end Myles Garrett, who leads the team in sacks despite only appearing in seven games and tight end David Njoku, who leads the team in touchdown catches with four.
He also ensured that linebacker Jamie Collins, acquired in a mid-season trade with the Patriots, and guard Joel Bitonio would be staying in Cleveland for the foreseeable future by signing each to long-term extensions.
These moves, along with the progression of the young talent on the roster, have definitely improved the team on both sides of the ball.
This year, the Browns defense is tied for 26th in PPG (25.7), have allowed the 10th fewest yards in the league (3,927) and are allowing the 6th fewest rushing yards per game (96.9). They also rank 17th in passing yards allowed per game (230.3) and are 24th in the league in sacks (24.0)
Some of these stats might not seem very impressive. However, they represent substantial upgrades over last season in every category. The most notable of these improvements is in rush yards per game, in which the Browns ranked 31st last season, meaning they have jumped 25 spots in that category.
The team’s offense has definitely struggled this year (which is expected, given they are starting a rookie quarterback). However, there have been improvements, albeit smaller ones.
The 2016 squad allowed 66 sacks, which was the most in the league by a 17 sack margin. This year, the team’s offensive line, despite the loss of All-Pro tackle Joe Thomas in Week 7, has improved on this somewhat, allowing 39 sacks. This is 3rd most in the league, which is not ideal, but is an improvement nonetheless.
The team also ranks higher in total yards (jumping from 30th to 24th) and pass yards per game (improving from 28th to 23rd) when compared to last year, which again illustrates some of the improvements made by the team.
Given the progression of the team from a statistical standpoint, one would expect the Browns to at least have won a game. However, this has proven to be extremely illusive to them, with a combination of bad luck, turnovers and a lack of execution making this the most difficult two season stretch that many Browns fans can remember.
Even the 1999 expansion team, which was composed of rookies, castoffs and journeymen, had two wins at this point during their season. These Browns just cannot just seem to shake the monkey off their back and execute well enough to win a football game.
At the end of the day, this comes down to the coaching staff and how it calls the game. Perhaps no play exemplified this better than what occurred at the end of the first half of their Week 10 loss versus the Detroit Lions.
Down 17-10 with 15 seconds to go and with no timeouts, the Browns faced a 2nd and goal from the Detroit two yard line. Instead of attempting a quick pass or a run that, realistically, could make it into the end zone, the team decided to sneak it with quarterback Deshone Kizer.
As one would expect, this did not end with the Browns scoring a touchdown and they were unable to get another play off before time ran out.
Given that Jackson is the defacto offensive coordinator, the blame for this, as well as many of the Browns’ offensive struggles, falls on his shoulders as well as on the relative inexperience of the personnel he has at his disposal.
Taking all of this into account, Jackson, for most intents and purposes, SHOULD be fired. However, with the talent on this roster, I do not think bringing anyone else in to coach would change anything.
Hiring another coach would just continue the cycle of broken promises, unfulfilled vows, and instability that has permeated throughout this organization for almost the entirety of its existence. This will also cause personnel to have to learn yet another playbook and learn how to play in yet another scheme, which is not guaranteed to be a successful transition.
The Browns have not had a head coach last more than two seasons since Romeo Crennel did from 2005-2008. This lack of stability has led to a team that is just as dysfunctional as its front office, which, considering the recent shananigans that have plagued this team during the Haslam era, is not surprising.
These Browns have faced off-field issues that range from comedic (the Ray Farmer texting saga) to borderline criminal (the Pilot Flying J pricing scandal) and have adversely affected the on-field product.
Realistically, how can a team focus when it does not even have trust in its administration?
In order to be more like the NFL’s premier franchises such as the Steelers, who have had three head coaches in 48 years, the Browns have to adopt a similar approach and be much more patient with the progress of their regimes, particularly their coaches.
This will foster a culture of stability, patience, and understanding within the organization and lead to success.
Realistically, this success will most likely not be seen in Jackson’s third year, which makes giving him ample time even more important. After all, Rome was not built in a day and there is no feasible way to turn a 1-15 team into a playoff-bound squad in two seasons.
Hopefully, new GM John Dorsey, formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs, will realize this, and give Jackson time to work with this roster beyond 2018. It might not be the sexy choice, but it is the one that offers the most stability going forward, all while fostering the continuity that makes many of the NFL’s finest.
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