Cleveland Browns questionable personnel decisions peak in loss


Nov 1, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine looks on during warmups prior to the game against the Arizona Cardinals at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

In a brutal, physical beating by the Arizona Cardinals, a number of curious personnel decisions punctuated the result. Questions have arisen over decisions regarding player selection as the season has progressed, and these peaked on Sunday.

Few quarterbacks took the beating that Josh McCown has over the last two games. He was pounded into the dirt in St. Louis, but gutted it out to take the field against the Cardinals despite a lingering shoulder issue. He took another very hard hit in the second half from Arizona linebacker Kevin Minter, but stayed in the game despite being in obvious discomfort and struggling to be effective. He was eventually pulled for Johnny Manziel in garbage time and is now a doubt for Thursday night against the Cincinnati Bengals.

When asked about it following the game Head Coach Mike Pettine said “We were going to take him out, and he [said he] could continue,” adding that when it comes to injuries it’s a player’s call whether they stay in the game or not.

In a league where injury causes unemployment and “the best ability is availability”, this seems both irresponsible and unfair. Every time you ask a player to decide whether to play, you are asking him to take a referendum on his future. As Pettine’s starter and very much one of Pettine’s favorites, McCown has the cache to make this decision without consequence, but others do not.

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In addition, leaving it up to the players has already gotten the Browns in trouble. The NFL came calling when Joe Haden was ruled inactive after saying he would play and being listed as probable for the game against the San Diego Chargers.

Eyebrows were also raised over other decisions. Duke Johnson has become one of the Browns’ best weapons on offense, but he disappeared without explanation in the second half of Sunday’s game. He had a 52-yard reception in the first half, but only received one touch late in the second half. He is by far the most dynamic running back on the team and as the offense stuttered in the second half, his absence is dumbfounding.

Exacerbating the situation were the struggles of Robert Turbin and Isaiah Crowell who failed to provide anything other than Turbin’s two fumbles. Pettine claimed today that it was “how the game flowed”, but that is not an adequate explanation.

When Haden left the game with a concussion, he was replaced not by Pierre Desir, but by Johnson Bademosi. Desir has played in place of Haden in the games he had missed prior to Sunday, and has played well. With Haden sidelined, Desir received only one snap, in which he was on the end of a vicious stiff arm from Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

Every other snap instead went to career special-teamer Bademosi, who was later beaten for a touchdown by Fitzgerald. Bademosi is an intelligent guy, hard worker and an excellent special teamer, but his ability as an NFL defensive back is questionable and there really does not seem to be any reason why he should be favored over the emerging Desir.

Barkevious Mingo and Justin Gilbert also continue to be marginalized. Despite other young players such as Danny Shelton and Nate Orchard being given a high number of snaps and being allowed to learn through mistakes and ineffectiveness, Mingo and Gilbert have been more or less discarded.

Gilbert has proven to be a great special teams player, but has not yet been allowed much playing time on defense in his second year. Like Desir, he should probably be ahead of Bademosi, especially considering the investment the Browns made in him and his athletic upside.

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Mingo has played well in bursts, and has especially shown ability as a coverage linebacker, but the defensive staff cannot or won’t find a role for him. Last week he was rewarded for a potentially game-turning pick of Peyton Manning with only 12 snaps against the Rams, and received a similar number this week.

As the Browns head to Cincinnati for Thursday Night Football, eyes are going to be on personnel decisions, especially if the team continues to flounder.