By In Stuff

Browns Week 6: Ouch

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There is a bar in Los Angeles, right off Hollywood Boulevard, called the Saint Felix. Best I can tell, there have been numerous Saint Felixes through the years, but none of them are patron saints. That’s a shame. Gregory the Great is the patron saint of teachers. St. Martha is the patron saint of dieticians.

I would like St. Felix to be the patron saint of the Cleveland Browns.

I mean, if ever a team needed one …

Saint Felix is normally just a regular bar. There are a bunch of photos of Hollywood women on the wall. The place is decorated for Halloween, complete with fake spider webs and such. But every Sunday of the fall, for just a few hours, the Saint Felix becomes a Cleveland Browns bar.

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I’m not entirely sure why this happens; our waitress said that the owner is from Cleveland but she wasn’t entirely sure of the details because it was only her third day. But there we all were, in the Saint Felix, everyone decked out in orange and brown, the Cleveland-Houston game on all the televisions.

It’s fair to say that by the time I got there, nobody was really watching.

The first play I saw, the Browns had third and long, and quarterback Kevin Hogan (the 28th different starting quarterback for the new Browns and the ninth different starter since 2014) threw a pass to rookie David Njoku, one that Njoku initially seemed to catch and promptly fumble. Someone from the Texans scooped it up and ran free toward the end zone.

The officials blew the whistle and called it an incomplete pass.

And there were cheers in the bar, which more or less sums up what it is like to root for the Cleveland Browns these days. It’s a joyous moment when the Browns merely drop a pass and get to punt.

* * *

Earlier this year, I was on a podcast with Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Good guy, Doug, and we mostly talked Tribe baseball. But the Browns came up, as they must in any Cleveland podcast, and it became clear to me that Doug is a full-fledged believer in what the Browns are doing. It was actually a bit jarring because he seemed GENUINELY SURPRISED when I said that, no, I wasn’t 100 percent confident that this team knows what it is doing. I talk to a lot of Browns fans, obviously, and his enthusiasm for this Browns team and their plan was, well, certainly it was different. You might call it refreshing. When he made it clear that he doesn’t just LIKE the Browns direction he LOVES the Browns direction, I felt a bit like James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams.

“I wish I had your passion, Doug. However misdirected it may be, it’s still a passion. I used to feel that way about things …”

And while this dreadful season has broken me down yet again, Doug has maintained his defiant optimism. He wrote a long piece just this week with this as the lead:

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cleveland may not be strong enough to allow the plan to see itself through, but if this Browns front office is fired anytime soon, know this: The next general manager will oversee a winner. And you’ll credit the wrong guy.

Could Doug be right? Yes, the losing stinks. Yes, the Browns are 1-21 since this regime took over. Yes, Cleveland has a front office without a single proven football guy (though, to be fair, they have a pretty good baseball guy). Yes, head coach Hue Jackson is off to pretty much as a bad a start as possible, and yes, the Browns have consistenty traded down in the draft to avoid taking great football players who might have helped them win, and yes, nobody really knows what the heck they’re trying to do on offense or defense or special teams or anything.

But is it possible that all this suffering and seeming incompetence is merely the by-product of a full reboot, and that while we Browns fans are distracted by the clownish play and continuous player flops, this organization is quietly building the framework for a little dynamo of a team that will blow our minds?

Doug writes: “Here’s the thing Cleveland: You may not be strong enough to handle the plan. But you’re going to reap the rewards anyway.”

Am I just not strong enough to handle the plan?

This offers a conundrum. Doug is wrong. Of course he is. He’s totally, completely, impossibly wrong. But I want him to be right. Doug is living in a bizarro fantasy world where up is down, gold is mud, and Cleveland linebacker Joe Schobert is having a good year. But I want Doug to be the one living in reality, I want him to be able to say “I told you so,” to me when the Browns are suddenly winning games and championships. Let’s face it: You don’t want to argue with the person who is saying what you so desperately WANT to be true.

I want the story here to be my own lack of faith … and for the Browns to become a great team in spite of my personal failure to see and imagine.

The trouble is … well, the trouble is I can’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about that possibiiity because I’m wanted back on planet earth. The Browns’ incompetence when it comes to building, developing, coaching and playing is not exactly a state secret. It’s out there for everyone to see. The Browns offense is terrible. The Browns defense is terrible. Sure, there are occasional bright spots — the Browns’ corners seem to be playing reasonably well, 2017 first pick Myles Garrett looks fantastic when he’s healthy, left tackle Joe Thomas remains a magnificent beast — but the thing is there are ALWAYS bright spots, if you choose to find them. I covered the Cincinnati Bengals in the early 1990s. They had bright spots too, leading tacklers, real playmakers, team leaders, guys you were sure had star qualities if only they were on another team.

And the lesson was that, yeah, EVERY team has bright spots, even the terrible ones.

 

The truth is this team is 0-6 after going 1-15. They have not come particularly close to winning a game this year. They are playing quarterback roulette again. Their defensive schemes baffle everyone except their opponents. Their entire linebacker corps rates as “poor” by Pro Football Focus ratings, as do all of their skill position players on offense except for Duke Johnson.

There are times this season where Duke Johnson has been the only thing that has kept the Browns fan in me going.

So what now? Should the Browns wipe the slate clean and start over again? No, I don’t want that, I’ve made it abundantly clear I don’t want them to do that.

So sould they do what Doug believes and stick with this group in the belief that they know what they’re doing and, given time, will get it right? Uh, no, I don’t want that, either.

Should they tinker with what they have going, maybe add a football guy, make a few other adjustments. I’m not going to lie to you. I don’t want that either.

So what do I want? No idea. The Browns don’t give you many good options, really. Well, there is one thing I want. In the two years that Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta and Hue Jackson and Jimmy Haslam hae tried this thing that Doug calls a grand experiment, there is one thing that has driven me absolutely nuts. They never seem to LOVE anything.

Do you know what I mean? They have spent these years trying to do the right thing, the clever thing, the justifiable thing. I know that’s part of the job. But they never seem to really get excited about anything. The best thing they have done — at least, it seems this way — was draft Myles Garrett, but they just seemed to do that because they had the first pick in the draft, and he was the consensus first pick in the draft.

You never got the sense that they would have TRADED UP to get Myles Garrett, that getting him was the key to turning this team around. No, he was the guy, and they probably didn’t get a great offer for that first pick, and so they took him. That’s how it has felt for two years. The Browns don’t go and GET players. They END UP with players.

Last year, the Browns were in position to take quarterback Carson Wentz. But they were just not that excited about him. Philadelphia was excited about him. Philadelphia traded a bunch of draft picks to Cleveland, and the Browns were thrilled to get those picks.

The Browns always seem more thrilled about “picks” than “players.”

This year, the Browns were in position to take quarterback Deshaun Watson. But they were just not that excited about him. Houston was excited about him. Houston traded draft picks to Cleveland, and the Browns were thrilled to get those picks. Watson threw three touchdown passes against the Browns.

This is how it goes. When will the Browns get excited about players? When will this organization boldly go out and show their hand, show exactly how they intend to make this Browns team good again. Sure, the braintrust is absolutely trying to make the Browns winners again — I have no question at all about their intentions — but it seems they only know how to do that in theory. It’s all game theory, it’s all manipulating the system to add draft picks (see the Brock Osweiler trade), it’s all looking for future value.

This is too obvious to say but let’s say it anyway: The only way the Browns will get better is if they have better players. My typing those stupid words tells you that I think this front office has lost sight of that simple fact. The list of exciting, wonderful, awesome players the Browns have passed on the last few years — including the last two seasons under this administration — is soul crushing.

Doug believes that next year the Browns will draft a great quarterback and a great wide receiver … and then with Garrett being awesome, with some of these younger players growing into solid performers and stars,  with the offensive line coming together, the Browns will become a good team. And while it might SEEM like it happened overnight, no, the truth the Browns are doing the hard, underappreciated dirty work right now.

I’d love nothing more than for him to be right.

He isn’t right. None of those things are happening.

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21 Responses to Browns Week 6: Ouch

  1. Marc R says:

    The team that seems to be the closest analogue to the current Browns is the post-Garnett Celtics. They kept collecting “assets” even though none of the players they drafted were particularly good. Eventually they were able to cash them in through trade and free agency. It took time though. Almost certainly will for the Browns too.

    • Marc R says:

      And some teams follow the same approach and never get anywhere with it. Like the post-Howard Orlando Magic.

    • Ura Doofus says:

      The post-Garnett Celtics missed the playoffs once. They were back in the postseason the next year and won 48 games the year after that without any big-time trades or free agents. Last year they added the first premium free agent in team history and were the top seed in the East. Hard to see how they did any of those things without good players.

      It’s even harder to see how they are the closest analogue to a team that won one of their last 25 games and has finished better than last in their division once in the last ten years. A one year dip as a team retools with a definite plan has no overlap with a team suffering through over a decade of futility.

  2. Marco says:

    Yeah they stink.

    But let’s not kill them too hard for passing on Watson. It’s not like he was a sure thing and everyone knew it. He was the 3rd QB taken. Seems somewhat unfair to look back after we know who the good players in a draft are and say that they should have drafted differently.

    • NFLfan says:

      Marco,

      I think Joe’s point is that its fair to bash them for passing on Watson. Houston “knew” it and the Brown’s did not. The Brown’s hoarding of draft picks will not pan out unless they start knowing things like Houston, or Philadelphia. If the Browns know just as much as you or me, they are in deep trouble.

      • Marco says:

        >>The Brown’s hoarding of draft picks will not pan out unless they start knowing things like Houston, or Philadelphia.

        Sure, but the point is your example had the benefit of hindsight. Plenty of teams trade up because they “know things” and end up being dead wrong. Cherry picking the teams that “know things” and ended up being right is somewhat intellectually dishonest.

        If the complaint is “I want them to go for it”, then sure, that’s valid. **BUT**, it needs to be married to a recognition that sometimes going for it blows up in your face, not just a list of times other people went for it and it worked out.

  3. Ericanadian says:

    I feel like the main problem to me is that the coaching staff and the management are not aligned in their belief on how to build a team. I don’t think Hue Jackson is an analytics guy.

    Going into the season it seemed like the management drafted Kizer to sit on the bench while Kessler worked as a placeholder QB. Jackson blew that up because Kessler has a weak arm and he doesn’t like weak arms. He went so far as to promote Osweiler ahead of Kessler before the team cut Osweiler. I can understand a desire to be able to throw deep, but once Coleman went down, who do they even have to throw deep to?

    I still think Hue Jackson is a good coach and a good offensive mind, but in a rebuild like this the management and coach need to be on the same page and that just doesn’t seem to be the case.

  4. bk says:

    Joe’s weekly column on the Browns has become my favorite feature on the internet. I hope it continues forever. I actively root for the Browns to lose in soul crushing ways just to read what Joe has to say about it.

    I realize this might make me a bad person.

  5. Rob Smith says:

    This reminds me of the Kansas City Royals blogs a few years ago. You know, when they were really terrible year after year. Then suddenly they went to two World Series and won one. They did it by sticking to the plan, even when the plan seemed not to be working. I think sticking to the plan is a far better option than constantly starting over. No fan wants to see teams stick with what seems to not be working. But no fan is qualified to run a team either. Owners and GMs that react too strongly to fan sentiment are losers and always will be.

    In short, we’ve been here before with Joe & we should pay attention to how the Dayton Moore / Ned Jost (who Joe mocked incessantly) worked out. I know KC is about to stink again, but there are very few fan bases that wouldn’t have traded places with the Royals the last 5 years.

    • Jaunty Rockefeller says:

      What plan are the Browns sticking to? All those years the Royals stunk, they were acquiring highly rated young talent and at one point had what was considered the best farm system in baseball. It took heroic patience to wait for that talent to pay off, but there was at least hope that one day the kids would reach their potential, which they all did more or less at once. Plus the bullpen was insane. The Browns are who they are. There’s no hidden pool of talent stashed away in Akron that they’re slowly developing in secret. They could draft Josh Rosen next year, and maybe he’ll pan out–but that’s a plan like playing the lottery is a retirement plan.

  6. Mark Daniel says:

    It’s possible analytics doesn’t fit well into football team-building. It seem fairly straight forward that you need a good coach and a good QB. Other than that, the game itself is so complex, especially compared to baseball which has discrete individual events that can be recorded easily, that I’m not sure analytics can play as prominent a role in football as it does in baseball. I’m sure it has some role, probably in scouting future opponents, but as for team building? Find a good coach and try to build some depth on the roster.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      There are already a fair amount of analytics being done in football. I think it would be easier to do analytics in football because the game is already analytically-based. Coaches don’t call a play because they have a gut instinct like a baseball manager. They look at film and develop tendencies and so forth. So I would think football is actually a better fit for analytics.

  7. Eric says:

    It’s so strange reading this from Joe, because he sounds like the angry baseball columnists that he would normally laugh at. When the Astros were tanking for a few years, I’m sure there were Houston writers saying “They need to bring in a BASEBALL guy!” They were dreadful to watch. The same goes for the Cubs early in the Epstein years. We all know how those tank jobs turned out.

    But most of all, I think back to all those years when the Royals were bad and Joe wanted them to TRY something. They obviously weren’t going to win by playing the same game as the Yankees and Red Sox, so they needed to be different. Well, for the first time that I can ever remember, the Browns clearly have ideas and a plan and are TRYING something. Will it work? I have no idea. Half of these tank-and-rebuilds flop entirely, and half of them work. I’m willing to wait and see if the Browns can pull this off. But it’s so weird to see Joe Posnanski, of all people, complaining that they don’t have football guys. They’ve had football guys who loved players for the last 20 years, and have srunk for all of them.

    • Karyn says:

      I think that success in Major League Baseball and success in the NFL are completely different beasts. In MLB, thereś a big gap between drafting a player and seeing him succeed in the big leagues. In the NFL, a top pick better produce his rookie year. In baseball, analytics are much further along and are a great tool for estimating how well a player with particular skills and attributes will mature and improve. No, theyŕe not perfect, and should be used in conjunction with live, experienced scouts, but theyŕe miles ahead of whatś available in football.
      .
      Also, the NFL has a firm salary cap. Teams canńot outspend their competition the way the Yankees and Red Sox can in MLB. Small market teams must try different strategies and search for hidden advantages in order to compete. Thatś not true in the NFL; the Patriots cannot outspend the Browns 3:1.

      You tell me, though–what is the plan that the Cleveland Browns are trying? What are their ideas?

  8. Darrel says:

    Here is the thing that I think gets lost in the bashing the browns take for not drafting Wentz or Watson. They didn’t and don’t have the talent on the roster that would enable a young QB to succeed. In philly they have a real strong O-line and have added a top WR this year. In Houston they have a Hopkins and a strong D(at least before the recent injuries) to insulate the QB. I think had Cleveland drafted either of these guys we would be talking about how they wasted another high pick on a QB who isn’t good enough. With the O-line improvements made this year, the athletic TE, a dynamic pass rusher, a surprisingly strong run D, and a myriad of cap space and draft picks, the QB they draft this year may have a chance to succeed as the pieces around him will be strong enough to let whatever talent he has come to the front.

  9. shagster says:

    I think State Secret may need capitalization. When applied it’s not just for any ‘state’. It’s a for a sovereign, and implication is it’s a sovereign with means that requires protection.

    If Doug is to be believed, Cleveland HAS* good players. What Cleveland needs are good players who know how to win, And have the maturity and poise to force the issue. At game speed. Who believe that there is an ‘i’ in win. Damn the circumstances.

    Connor Shaw.

    *a Joe inspired capitalization.

  10. Brad says:

    The Browns previous coach, Mike Pettine, in retrospect, did a terrific job, going 10 and 22, despite having crap for talent. Should have kept him.

  11. Tom says:

    The key factor is that for every player a football team adds to the roster, whether through the draft, free agency or trade, there are a lot more players to pick from. Good teams are good at finding good players among the huge groups of good and not so good players, bad teams are not. And if you cannot identify good players, who cares how many draft picks you have? If the Browns have a one in five (being very kind) chance of getting a good player with each draft pick, while the Steelers, Packers and Pats have a 3 in 5 chance, who cares if you have 4-5 more picks each year over a 2-3 year stretch? Maybe that gets you one more good player in that stretch. But then the Browns let that guy go too early (Taylor Gabriel, Alex Mack, Terrelle Pryor, Joe Haden, probably some others I cannot think of) for nothing or not enough compensation. Lather, rinse, repeat.

  12. Brett Alan says:

    St. Felix, believe it or not, appears to be the patron saint of spiders. https://membracid.wordpress.com/2008/03/19/st-felix-patron-saint-of-spiders/

    So, you know, that works for a Cleveland team, just different sport and timeframe. B^)

    BTW, if LA is like New York, there’s a bar for every NFL team on Sundays, and for many college teams on Saturdays.

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