In the midst of one of the worst Cleveland Browns seasons in history, many don’t realize that one of the team’s biggest problems is coaching.
Since the team’s re-inception in 1999, the Cleveland Browns have put forth one of the most consistent 17-year stretches of losing in NFL history. Any stat one looks at is alarming, and displays just how poorly the team has performed for so long.
Even still, this season tops them all. Coming in with the excitement of a new front office, head coach, and starting quarterback, an 0-11 record is not what was anticipated. While fans will often point to the lack of talent on the roster, the coaching staff is almost equally responsible.
Take last week’s matchup with Pittsburgh for example. The secondary clearly had its best game of the year, limiting a potent Pittsburgh passing attack to 167 yards. The defense had held the Steelers to just two field goals, and could have easily gone to half that way.
Terrelle Pryor also had a big game, catching one deep ball on the first drive which was especially impressive. All in all, the Browns had flashes of good football on both sides of the ball throughout the game. Yet somehow, the got blown out. Why? A few horrible mistakes, sure. But another cause was the coaching staff’s inability to adjust.
The purpose of this is not to dwell on Sunday’s ugly defeat, as a critical game this Sunday is quickly approaching. The point is instead to identify a problem Cleveland currently has that is being overlooked.
The Browns’ coaches simply do not make adjustments. This is true for both sides of the ball, but was especially evident for the offense last week.
Cleveland quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Josh McCown were sacked a total of eight times on the afternoon, as opposed to the defense’s zero on Ben Roethlisberger. Certainly, the offensive line was responsible for being overmatched, but it wasn’t just that.
The Steelers ran stunts, sending one more rusher than the Browns could block. This resulted in a free rusher bolting through on every play untouched. Not only did the eight sacks stem from this major issue, many knockdowns and forced throw-aways did as well.
Even on McCown’s touchdown pass to Gary Barnidge, he was hit by a free rusher who wasn’t touched on his way through the line.
Defensively, the coaches aren’t doing any better. As was evident in Sunday’s game, Cleveland didn’t have any pass rush going whatsoever. Also, it is common knowledge that the Browns’ secondary is among the most inexperienced in the league.
Yet the strategy put forth by defensive coordinator Ray Horton was to drop back as many men into coverage as he could. On many plays, he only rushed the three defensive linemen. This clearly did not generate any rush on Roethlisberger, giving him ample time to find a receiver. Even though there may have been eight defenders in pass coverage, receivers were getting open.
A possible solution to this would be to send the linebackers, who are better pass rushers anyway. Throwing in a safety or corner blitz once in a while wouldn’t be a bad idea either. Anything to keep opposing quarterbacks on their heels, forcing them to get the ball out quick. Then, the secondary won’t be hung out to dry.
It may be the fault of the linebackers, safeties, and cornerbacks that they can’t cover a receiver or running back out of the backfield. But it is still the responsibility of the coaching staff to try to compensate for this. It is time that they are called out for failing to do this, as they are not maximizing the little talent they have.
The Browns may make adjustments week-to-week, but if they can’t make them during games, this is useless. Of course, the responsibility of this falls on the coaching staff. Being outcoached is nothing new to Browns fans, but it is especially disturbing this time, as the organization knows they have a capable staff.
There’s really no magic solution to all of a sudden make adjustments. The Browns could prepare better, but even then, they need to be able to change their strategy during a game based on how the opponent reacts to their original strategy.
After the game on Sunday, Hue Jackson once again told the media that he would “have to look at the tape” before making any major claims. This is a little bit of a problem. The fact that Jackson can’t recognize the glaring issues facing his team during a game is nearly disqualifying.
It couldn’t be too hard to see that a free rusher was coming through untouched, or that rushing only three wasn’t working. Part of a coach’s job is to recognize these problems and implement solutions. Jackson and Horton aren’t meaning that they are failing to perform this critical aspect of their jobs.
It’s not that the Browns should be planning on releasing Jackson. In fact, keeping their head coach for an extended period of time is necessary to change the narrative of a horrendous past two years.
But at some point, coach Hue is going to have to realize that his job consists of more than preparing for the game every week. The NFL is a fast-paced league, and Browns coaches need to keep up. Making adjustments during games is the only way to achieve this.