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Tough opening game for the Browns and the rookies on offense


Image source: Cleveland Browns Facebook Page

I’ve had season tickets to the Browns games since they returned to the NFL, and it’s been tough watching the product on the field. Usually we’re leaving early, and then late in the year we don’t bother going at all.

Expectations were definitely higher this year, as the rebuilding project has produced a young team with potential playmakers in Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden and Josh Gordon.

The Browns were 9.5 point underdogs, so in the grand scheme of things a close ballgame was a pleasant surprise. Frankly the stadium was rockin’ in the fourth quarter as the Browns had a chance to pull the upset. The fans were into it until the very end. Unfortunately, we ended up with another loss to open the season.

Here are some thoughts after stewing on it for several days:

- The offensive woes were very disappointing. I’m aware of all the challenges, with a rookie quarterback, a rookie running back who didn’t play a down in the preseason, a rookie wide receiver who hasn’t played in several years and a rookie right tackle. Perhaps we expected too much, but the results were just dismal. The stout Philly defense didn’t make things any easier to accept.

- Many in the media who broke down the game noticed that Trent Richardson was very rusty and didn’t look that explosive despite his awesome run where he crushed a Philly defender and separated him from his helmet. I won’t get too concerned here, as Richardson had zero game reps in preseason, so we should expect him to get much better as he gets into football shape and we start facing some weaker defenses.

- The lack of a running game really hurt, as Brandon Weeden had a brutal performance. Perhaps things would have been different if Greg Little and Owen Marecic would learn how to catch a football, but the end result was just ugly. Weeden just needs to play better, along with the line and the receivers. I’m ignoring all the fools on Twitter who want to bring up Colt McCoy after Weeden’s first game as a rookie, and that includes emotional Browns fans and hacks in the “media” who are desperate for Twitter responses and traffic to their websites. It’s an idiotic topic. Let’s see how Weeden looks after 5 games and then we can have a rational discussion on that topic.

- I was encouraged by some of the play calling, and I loved the double reverse to Travis Benjamin, but Pat Shurmur and Brad Childress need to find more plays apart from slants to make Weeden’s job easier, like bubble screens and other easy throws to get him in a groove. I liked seeing Trent Richardson split wide left on a couple of plays, but we didn’t see a quick pass out to him like we saw last night with Flacco and Rice in the Ravens game. Again, it was one game against a tough defense. We’ll know more about the offense and the play calling after 5 games.

- The defense was fantastic. Perhaps things would have been worse had Andy Reid realized he was allowed to run the ball, but the young defense harassed Micheal Vick all day and forced countless errors. Let’s hope we see much more of this. The young linebackers played extremely well, so I don’t want to see slow guys like Scott Fujita getting much playing time once he gets healthy. Still, the run defense didn’t look great.

- Pat Shurmur made some glaring game-management mistakes last year. I didn’t like them, but I felt he would get better in year two. We didn’t see any huge brain farts in game one, but I think he made a mistake not going for the 2-point conversion. The Browns were having trouble scoring, and the danger of an Eagles touchdown was far greater than two field goals, so adding one point to get to 16-10 gave him very little. Frankly, the pick six was such a surprise they had little time here, so that probably explains the decision as much as anything.

I’ve avoided talk radio in Cleveland this week for the simple reason that I don’t want to listen to emotional rants from unhinged hosts and callers. I don’t care to discuss who the next coach or GM might be if this continues, and I really don’t care to debate Jimmy Haslam’s first move when he takes over. It would be nice if most of the talk actually centered on football as opposed to all the drama, but that’s apparently too much too ask these days.

Let’s see where things stand after 5 games. Of course if the offense continues to look this bad, then those issues will not be avoidable. But the offense should get better as the young kids gain experience. They have talent, and hopefully they figure out how to exploit it.

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Browns hire Brad Childress

Brad Childress. REUTERS/Eric Miller (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Other than a few angry people masquerading as “experts” on sports talk radio, most people seem satisfied with the decision by the Browns to bring in Brad Childress as the new offensive coordinator. The guy is clearly an expert in the West Coast Offense, and he’s been a part of very successful teams with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings over the years.

The perpetual critics will always be able to point to something in his record that supports their assertion that this hire is a “disaster.” He’s also known as “Chilly” for his sometimes tough demeanor. That, of course, misses the point. Pat Shurmur worked with him in Philly, so he obviously feels the two can work well together.

None of us know whether this will work out. Sometimes a young, innovative coach is the answer. Other times, an experienced guy like Childress who also has head coaching experience can be a great fit. Fans, writers and radio big-mouths will all have their opinions, but at some level it’s appropriate to give the organization the benefit of the doubt, even if they are coming off a bad season. Organizations take time to build, and I see Mike Holmgren putting together a good group of professionals who are all on the same page. Some might scream about irrelevant facts, like how these guys all share the same agent, but I don’t care about that at all if these guys can build an organization that is built to last.

Andy Reid is biased of course, but Mary Kay Cabot got some good quotes from him on this situation:

“Pat’s a heck of a play-caller, and Brad’s a heck of a play-caller, and I think that’s a heck of a combination,” Reid told The Plain Dealer. “Both of them can bounce things off of each other. That’s what Brad did here with me, and that’s what Pat did here with me. So, whether I was calling the plays or they were calling the plays, we had an open communication where we could talk and make the best of whatever situation there was.”

Childress, a former Minnesota Vikings head coach, was hired by the Browns on Friday to be the first offensive coordinator under Shurmur, who called his own plays last season. Shurmur and Childress spent seven years together under Reid in Philadelphia, going 70-42 in those years with four trips to the NFC Championship Game and one appearance in the Super Bowl, a loss to New England.

Shurmur will retain play-calling duties for now, but the two will have plenty of discussions about that, and nothing has been finalized yet, an NFL source said. Shurmur said during his season-ending news conference that he’d relinquish the play-calling duties if the right person came along.

“They were a great combo for me here, and we sure won a lot of games with those two at the helm of my offense here, and so I wouldn’t expect anything different,” said Reid, who ran the same West Coast offense the Browns have in place. “They work very well together, and it’s a great fit. The Cleveland Browns are getting a great person, No. 1, and a tremendous football coach. He’s got a great football mind, and he has a great relationship with Pat. It’s a win-win all the way around.”

Reid cited the tremendous job Childress and Shurmur did with quarterback Donovan McNabb, who went to three Pro Bowls with Childress as quarterbacks coach and three more with Shurmur in that capacity.

“They did a phenomenal job with Donovan,” said Reid. “Brad had Donovan when he was young, and Pat had him when he was a little older, and Brad never lost his relationship with Donovan when he became the coordinator. The two of them developed him very well. He was a great player, but they did a heck of a job with him.”

Reid is confident they’ll have the same impact on quarterback Colt McCoy, if the Browns decide to stick with him.
“Both of them understand it takes four years for a quarterback to fully mature or get close to full maturing in the NFL,” said Reid. “It’s not a bang-bang thing that happens overnight. They understand how to go through that process and how to teach quarterbacks and when to be a little tough on them and when you need to back off. They both have a great feel for that.”

Reid highlights many points that we all should understand. Coaching is about teamwork, and it’s critical that people can work together. Mike Holmgren stresses this all the time, and it’s also important that the coaches work well with the scouts and GM.

I want the Browns to build an organization that has continuity and that can rival the organizations in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. We’ll see how Childress works out, but he’s another expert in the system that this organization believes in. That’s a real positive to build on.

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