Preparation: Do The Browns Coaches Have the Right Plan?

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The 2014 version of the Cleveland Browns are 2-2 entering this weekend’s rematch with the Pittsburgh Steelers. This team has managed to pull off two fourth quarter victories led by hometown hero Brian Hoyer. Browns teams of recent memory would most likely be 0-4 thus far, as teams of the past didn’t have the coaching, talent, or fortitude to pull off the late victories of this year’s team. This sounds promising, right? I would agree, but I have a major complaint and it lies with the coaching staff. Specifically, my issues are with Head Coach Mike Pettine and Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

There is something very alarming about this Browns team. In 2 of their 4 games this season, the Browns have had to generate massive comebacks in the 2nd half of games. I will give credit where it is due, the ability for this team to battle back is very exciting. Especially in the game last week, on the road, where they produced the largest road comeback in NFL history. The problem is, they should never have been in that position to begin with. Let’s go back to week one in Pittsburgh. This was the opening game of a highly anticipated season. The Browns had been training and preparing for weeks. The city was buzzing and life for Browns fans was as optimistic as ever. Then the Browns come out and wet the bed in the first half of the game. The offense was shaky at best and the defense was non-existent. How does a team that has been preparing for months come out flat against their long hated rivals? I will tell you how, bad coaching.

Granted, this was Pettine’s first game as the head coach of an NFL team, so maybe there is an explanation for their performance. Okay, here is a free pass. Let’s fast forward from game 1 to game 4. The Browns are coming off a bye week, which means they had two weeks to prepare for a very beatable Titans team. Again, this team came out as flat as a pancake. The offense and defense were equally terrible. It was late in the 2nd quarter and the Browns were down 28-3. How on earth does a team, with two weeks to prepare, come out so flat? This is a direct result of poor team management and lack of excitement, which is supposed to be driven by the head coach. It is Mike Pettine’s job to make sure his team is operating and performing at its peak, especially after a bye week.

Now, I don’t care how Mike Pettine prepares his team, but whatever he has been doing needs to change. Maybe it’s the practice tempo or maybe it’s the pregame rituals on the road, but Pettine needs to change whatever he has been doing to prepare for road games. I don’t like to hypothesize, but this team could be 4-0. Which leads me to my next issue: Kyle Shanahan. With 5 minutes left in the 4th quarter vs. the Ravens, Kyle Shanahan essentially melted with fear and played not to lose. I understand the desire to be conservative, but Shanahan was so tight, he could have spit out diamonds.

Let’s break down a critical series. There was 2:17 left in the 4th quarter; the Browns are leading and they have the ball. Now, Baltimore has 2 timeouts left and the 2 minute warning, so they have plenty of ways to stop the clock. The Browns are inside their own 25 yard line. Baltimore can stop the clock, so running the ball offers no incentive. The Browns are deep in their own territory, and this is now a chess game. At this point, I would have opened the play book and tried to get as many yards as possible, while forcing Baltimore to use their timeouts. Instead, Shanahan calls 2 power running plays in a row.

Baltimore uses 2 times outs and there is still 2:06 left on the clock. The Browns have gained 0 yards, and burned no time off of the clock. If Baltimore is going to waste timeouts, why not make easy passes to try and move the ball to help with field position? I understand that one first down running the ball could have changed the outcome of that game, but the Browns had nothing to lose and Shanahan’s run calls were destroyed by the front seven of Baltimore on that drive. He was playing not to lose, and that is fine, except we did lose, because his play calls were ultra conservative.

This could be the first really meaningful and winning season for the Browns in a long time. This team has nothing to lose and everything to gain. It makes me nervous when the team comes out flat, and when the offense gets conservative. Pettine and Shanahan could be heroes in Cleveland. I mean, it wouldn’t take much considering the shoes they are filling. How do these names make you feel: Crennel, Mangini, Shurmur, and Chudzinski? Ugh, I just got the chills thinking about this succession of losers. This year it can all change. I think we finally have the personnel to compete, but the question remains: do we have the right coaches? I sure hope we do. A convincing win on Sunday should do a lot to make the case for both Pettine and Shanahan as long term answers.

Written by Rick Giavonette

Follow me on Twitter – @CST_RickG

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