Expectations determine everything and the 2013 Cleveland Browns are no different. For people who saw a team that strengthened the defense and had some small hopes for offense at least showing signs of life but looked at this year as the first in a two year build are pretty much where they expected to be. Meanwhile, frustrated fans looking for palpable improvement, especially in the standings are ready to march on Berea because they think the team is not getting any better, with some even suggesting it has gotten worse, being riled up by members of the local media.
I keep hearing how the Browns embarrassed themselves yesterday. I saw Steve Doerschuk suggest the Browns should blow the Jaguars out if Rob Chudzinski was really the head coach the Browns need him to be. Tony Grossi is saying the losing culture is worse than it was last year. WaitingForNextYear is not waiting anymore and is openly and loudly angry at the Browns for trading Trent Richardson (still) and not getting a fourth quarterback in a timely enough manner for their liking, because that fourth quarterback was the difference between making the playoffs or not.
For a team that might be going on their fourth quarterback in the twelfth game of the season on a team that may not have any, what is a reasonable level of expectations? The Browns may have found a talented quarterback in Brian Hoyer with all credit going to Mike Lombardi who has had an open and honest man crush on him for years. They inherited Brandon Weeden who they had to find out about given the investment of the last front office, which they did. The signing of Jason Campbell was approved by most every critic when it was made.
The Browns had something working before Hoyer went down with the ACL. He may not be the answer but he was effective in the games he played and deserved more of a look and should be able to come back and compete for the starting job against the quarterback they ultimately draft. After the team was accused of tanking, they won three games in a row with two of them being a matter of Hoyer running the offense. So, the Browns should be admonished for finding a quarterback no one else wanted who looked solid, because he got hurt instead of being applauded for finding someone who could potentially contribute down the road? That logic is baffling.
Brandon Weeden cannot play dead. The Browns did not do that to him. He did that on his own. Weeden said the offense was a better fit for him, that he loved Norv Turner, it was easier to learn and everything else. Weeden embraced the coaching change more than maybe anyone on this team. He is not only bad, but is setting opponents up to win. I guess every team has a playoff caliber quarterback sitting at third string and the Browns were just asleep at the wheel.
Campbell was a lauded signing at the time. There were people calling for him to start when Weeden struggled early. The Browns went with Hoyer, a move that was criticized at the time because how dare they? Hoyer played well before going down and Campbell came back in after another short stint with Weeden. Campbell had two good games, prompting Mary Kay Cabot to suggest he was playing at an elite level before remembering he was Jason Campbell and crashing down to earth in his next two games. The signing was applauded and the move to play him was celebrated. He had injured ribs before a concussion knocked him out of the lineup, but the Browns front office is terrible, not trying to improve things and is fostering a losing culture. What?
The Browns are better than they were last year; the idea they are not is nonsense. The quarterback position is still a disaster. The running game is worse but the trade that sent Trent Richardson to the Colts was brilliant and Richardson is doing nothing for the Colts. The Browns rushing is down statistically, but the running game is having about the same level of almost no impact it did last year. It certainly would be a lot more fun to watch Richardson toil and struggle in Cleveland as opposed to being a backup and massive disappointment in Indianapolis, right?
The Browns have two legitimate play makers on offense in Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. Gordon has questions that will always be there, but the Browns have bet on him and so far, he has been outstanding. He has taken a huge step forward from last year and is suddenly in the conversation for one of the best in the league this year as just a second year receiver.
Cameron went from a project to being a product. He dominated in the early part of the year and now he is drawing defensive pressure to him and trying to adjust, but opening up options for teammates. The two of them combined is the best set of weapons the Browns have had since Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow in 2007; hopefully they can stay that way.
Meanwhile, on defense, the Browns bet on Buster Skrine, who most in the media never wanted to see again. He is now playing at a high level. They embraced players from the past couple front offices and made a competitive, playoff caliber defense. Joe Haden has taken another step and has established himself as an elite corner. Haden and Skrine are among the best in pass deflections and Haden has gone on a tear with interceptions recently. Desmond Bryant, Paul Kruger, Barkevious Mingo and Armonty Bryant are all additions that help now but help more in the future. The defense is not done, but the future is extremely bright as the group as a whole is still young and evolving into this defensive scheme. With further development, more comfort and some more talent, they can be a great defense. Paired with a good offense, the Browns can be a consistent contender.
Yet, somehow the Browns are worse, the fans are being cheated, and the culture is getting worse. The new front office and coaching staff was not able to turn around a bad football team last year into a good football team this year. They made it painfully clear what their plan was and are currently executing it. Unfortunately, for much of the local media, the Browns did not execute their two year plan to build the team in the one year time frame the media had established for them.
The Browns have a defense, have play makers on offense and some talented linemen. Now, they have to get a quarterback, build a running game and keep adding talent to the team with a full complement of draft picks with an extra first, third and fourth. If they cannot get their quarterback, criticize them into the ground. At that point, they actually deserve it. Artificial, media created timelines and expectations are not reporting; it is a lazy attempt to fabricate news.
Considering how Grossi actively worked to run Eric Mangini out of town the second he got here, actually going as far as accusing him of being a spy for the New York Jets at one point in print, it is anything but surprising that he would start trying to set the groundwork to try to run out another coach he did not anoint. That does not make his work any less ridiculous or any more credible. If you are tired of watching this team, stop watching them. Work on your golf game, your fake bake and call it a day. You can make up story lines and tweet the owner from the 19th hole. This is worsening a losing culture more than anything the Browns front office is currently doing.
If people want to be frustrated, be frustrated. It is largely as a result of the expectations that were built up at the beginning of the year including people projecting them to make the playoffs. They were competitive with three different quarterbacks against some good teams, and are currently 2-3 in the AFC North. They have huge holes to fill and the assets to address them and that is where the pressure lies; not in the uninformed idea that they are not winning fast enough or embarrassing themselves based on unrealistic expectations that were set up for them based on the failures of regimes past. The team is better than it was last year; now this front office has to build the offense and keep it going to make this year’s struggles worth it. That pressure is on them and the pressure they have owned in this process.