Cleveland Browns must be unconventional to win

The Cleveland Browns have tried conventional football and it does not work. They now need to become an unconventional team in order to win.

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Dec 11, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) gets hit by a Cincinnati Bengals player during the third quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Bengals won 23-10. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Everybody knows the Cleveland Browns have not won a game in almost a year, meaning the current staff has yet to record a victory as Browns coaches. The universally accepted diagnosis claims the Browns lack the talent to compete on a week-to-week basis.

Suddenly, with just three games remaining, Brian Billick’s preseason claim that the Browns lack a winnable game on their schedule looks more like reality than criticism.

The Browns currently lack the talent to compete in the NFL, and what talent there is on the roster is wrapped up in first- and second-year players. Joe Haden and Joe Thomas have played to their normal level at times this season, yet it has not led to victories.

Hue Jackson and the coaching staff keep coaching this team per conventional NFL strategy. They kick field goals when it makes sense to, they blitz.and play zone when it makes sense per conventional football wisdom.

However, this team does not have the developed talent to win a conventional football game. If they had that talent, or talent that could be developed into a conventional football team, it would have happened by now. Admittedly, the defense has improved over the season, and has given up  less than 25 points the past two games after allowing an average of more than 28 points a game for the season.

Improvement is there, but to win a game this season it will take a strong dose of unconventional thinking. Jackson must stop game planning with conventional approaches to the game. He must first admit the situation in front of him - namely that he lacks the talent to win - and then he needs to create a game plan for a talentless team.

Here are a few suggestions to get help Jackson get started.

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Dec 11, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) throws a pass as Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap (96) closes in during the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

If you believe your team is the underdog going into the game, you need to begin the game as if you are already behind by the projected point spread. This is not to induce panic mode; the idea here is to play the game with a sense of urgency. Also, this is not to immediately get into passing mode. But it might mean playing up-tempo with an attacking game plan.

To be avoided is the conventional idea that all NFL teams carry the basic talent level. In this mindset, the game is determined by who can make plays and avoid stupid mistakes. This is not the Browns game as the Browns will make mistakes. To compensate for this, they need to attack, play aggressive and play fearless. Simply embrace the idea that mistakes and stupidity will happen, but keep your foot on the gas pedal regardless.

Corollary: When you are behind, do not play like you are behind. This may sound dumb but it is smarter than it sounds. When a team gets behind, the conventional wisdom is to begin passing the ball to “catch up” or get a quick score or two. This approach must be abandoned with this team. The Browns must stop playing like they are behind per conventional wisdom.

Instead, the Browns should play with an up-tempo sense of urgency but with the same balanced run-to-pass ratio. Continue to set up plays and run a normal offense. Teams are expecting the pass and the Browns do not have the quarterback to win a game using this strategy. Just utilize a close to 50-50 ratio on run-pass.

The running game will de facto be more effective because they opponent is expecting a pass. It will allow the offense to control the line of scrimmage and protect the quarterback better when a pass is called. Most importantly, starting going for it on fourth down.

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Dec 11, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Corey Coleman (19) runs with the ball after a catch as Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (27) defends during the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Bengals won 23-10. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports


The Browns need to simply go for it on fourth down. Analytics have clearly demonstrated when it makes sense to go for it on fourth down and when it is not. The modern NFL game carries with it the punting wisdom it inherited from a time in which 10-7 games where the norm. But the NFL has changed.

The Browns give up almost 29 points a game and there is no way the Browns offense can keep that pace by punting as regularly as they do.

The Browns can help both their offense and defense by playing unconventionally on fourth down. There are easily accessible charts that are guides for when to go for it and when not do. But since roughly have the NFL plays go for an average of four yards, it seems that dependent on field position and distance, the Browns should be taking more shots on fourth down than they do.

Going for it must be done intelligently. If done correctly, the Browns can give themselves more scoring opportunities. A bonus would be to keep their opponents offense off the field. The game has changed, it is time for the punt strategy to change with it.

Conventional punting is simply a give up play this Browns team can no longer afford.

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Nov 16, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns special teams coordinator Chris Tabor at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The play of the special teams needs to be an area where the Browns must dominate. Conventional wisdom is to put backups and young players on special teams, making it one-third of the game in which a team will be playing its weakest players.

For any underdog to win a game, there must be a score from the special teams. Right now, the Browns are struggling to be play a conventional special teams game. Throw that idea out the door. Begin planning trick plays and take chances. If the plan fails, so what? Nothing else is working anyway.

This idea will invite criticism, but the Browns should play as many dynamic players as possible on special teams. Instead of putting “Backup Joe” out there to return kicks and punts, put someone like Corey Coleman or Duke Johnson back there. They may screw up, but they may spark something. It is time to take the chance.

Fans are tired, rightfully so, of watching Browns returners letting the ball roll inside the five-yard line only to be downed by the opponent. Along those lines, fans are tired of watching the returners simply fair catch the ball or simply drop the ball over lack of communication. None of this has worked. Conventional wisdom has yet to help the Browns get out of bad field position.

Field the punt and try to get a return. Create a play for when the ball hangs in the air potentially backing the Browns up. Be creative, nothing else is working.

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Oct 30, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell (34) jumps into the Dawg Pound after scoring a touchdown during the second quarter against the New York Jets at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Stop kicking field goals! The play is a complete give-up move for this team. The defense is not good enough for the Browns to be settling for field goals. Playing off the previous point, the game would be far more exciting, and the Browns far more successful, if they went for it on fourth down in the red zone instead of kicking field goals.

Against the Bengals, the Browns had momentum when their drive “stalled” on the 12-yard line. Had Jackson predetermined he was going for it on fourth down, he could have changed his play call on third down to put them in a more manageable fourth down. Instead, Jackson has predetermined to play a conventional, conservative game and kick the field goal on fourth.

His third-down call reflected that decision by having the receivers run routes past the first-down marker, which the Bengals completely expected. By playing unconventional, Jackson would have the element of surprise on his side, which might lead to a more efficient offense.

But Jackson trots out the give-up unit to kick a field goal. The fans know that the Browns will not win by kicking field goals. If they fans know it, it is logical to conclude the players know it. If the Browns were going to win by kicking field goals they would have beaten the Miami Dolphins earlier in the year.

On Sunday, after the Browns kicked the field goal, the defense was flat and the Bengals went down the field and scored. At that point, the momentum was gone.

Jackson took the momentum away from his team by kicking the field goal. Why not go for it on fourth? Give your players a chance and maybe catch your opponent off guard.

The time of conventional football is over. The Browns have a whole front office full of analytics guys. It is time to pass on the wisdom.