By In Stuff

Hue Gotta Be Kidding

I’ve sort of stopped writing about the Cleveland Browns lately because, well, there’s really nothing interesting to talk about. They’re terrible. They are also injured. They are not developing an interesting young quarterback, they are not showing any signs whatsoever of  building even a passable offensive or defensive line, their last half-dozen drafts have been unmitigated disasters and the one exciting playmaker they have on the team, receiver Corey Coleman, has been injured and missing.

They have also played FIVE quarterbacks this year.

So, no, there’s not really much to say … well, except for this: The one hope for 2016, the one thing for any Cleveland fan to cling to, was that new coach Hue Jackson and a new braintrust featuring Paul DePodesta would change the dynamic of pure incompetence that has dominated the Browns landscape for years. Jackson was a terrific offensive coordinator for Cincinnati. DePodesta is a smart guy with a feel for building stuff. You had to believe those guys would at least stop the backward running and get the team facing North.

You know what? I don’t believe it anymore.

There was a very short series at the end of the first half that left me cold. I so want to like Hue Jackson. I like his positive approach. I like that he will not make excuses. I like that he refuses to blame officials, even when they DO screw up, and that he refuses to complain about injuries, even when they DO pile on in an almost biblical storm. I so want to like him.

At the end of the first half of Sunday’s game against the Bengals, though, I saw him make the sort of coaching decisions that leave me with no choice but to believe that he does not have it. They were such small decisions that the CBS announcing crew did not even mention them. Then again, it seemed at times that the CBS announcing crew was watching other games on NFL Sunday Ticket.

With about three minutes left in the first half, the Browns somehow trailed by only four, 14-10, and they got the ball back at their own 25. And then, despite the fact that their quarterback was someone named Kevin Hogan, they went on an actual drive. I have not watched much Bengals football this year so I was surprised that they came into this game 2-4. What happened? I thought the Bengals were the best team in football for much of last season, and I remain convinced that if Andy Dalton had not gotten hurt, they would have gone to the Super Bowl. What happened?

What happened is this: The Bengals defense is horrendous. I don’t know the root causes behind that, but I do know that this guy named Kevin Hogan ran wild on them and as far as I know Kevin Hogan has never run wild on ANYBODY …

… wait, I take it back. He ran for 112 yards against Washington State last year.

So, there you go: The Bengals defense is like Washington State.

Anyway, the Browns chugged all the way down to the Bengals 38 with about 1:40 left. It was fourth down and three. Now, I don’t think we need to go into the mathematical maze to figure out what you do. You just look at a few basic facts:

Fact 1: The Browns are 0-6

Fact 2: It was fourth and 3.

Fact 3:  Repeat — the Browns are 0-6.

Fact 4: There was only like a minute left.

Fact 5: They were on THE BENGALS 38.

Fact 6: Might not need to say this again but — the Browns are 0-6.

Fact 7: Their quarterback, a guy named Kevin Hogan, was running through the Bengals for some inexplicable reason.

So what do you do? Take into account all of it — the desperation of the team, the field position, the clock, the incompetence of the Bengals defense — and of course you:

TAKE A DELAY OF GAME PENALTY ON PURPOSE AND THEN PUNT!

Well, sure, what else is there to do? I mean, if you go for it there you could, you know, fail to make the first down. And then, oh my gosh, that would be a terrible disaster, because, um, why again? Oh yeah, because then the Bengals would be only 62 yards away from the end zone with one minute left! They might score a field goal or a touchdown and put you more behind. You might lose the game! You might miss the playoffs!

The Browns took a delay of game penalty and punted. They really did that.

The CBS announcers did not seem too interested in talking about it (they were much more interested in why Bengals coach Marvin Lewis wasn’t calling timeout not knowing, apparently, that Marvin’s hobbies include reading, studying history and sitting on a lead). Eventually they seemed to suggest that it was the right call or something because it gave the punter more room or something. They obviously were busy watching the Bills-Dolphins game.

But it gets worse, a lot worse. The decision to punt from well inside Bengals territory on fourth and three even though the team is 0-6 is just the sort of timidity you come to expect from football coaches. Sure, I wanted Hue Jackson to be different, but he isn’t, at least not yet. He’s coaching scared and as disappointing as that is, well, you look at the team he has around him and I’m not sure you can completely blame the guy.

What comes next, though, so boggles the mind so completely that I’m still not 100% sure it happened.

OK, so, the Browns punted the ball and the Bengals fair caught it at the 15 — it was a lousy punt. Whatever. There was 1:03 left in the half. It goes without saying that Marvin Lewis sent out his offense to run the ball and run out the first half clock. It did seem to shock the CBS announcing crew, but that  might have been something happening in the New Orleans-Kansas City game.

So, Dalton handed off to Giovani Bernard, and they slowly made their way back to the huddle, and the first half was going to end. I was grumping about the Browns punting that ball — I mean, seriously, how bad do they have to be before a coach will go for it on fourth and three in the opponent’s territory — when I looked up. The TV clock was stuck at 58 seconds.

“Hey,” I thought to myself, “why is the CBS clock broken?” Then I realized, no, CBS had it right. The clock really was stopped.

A whole series of thoughts then occurred in this order:

1. Did Bernard step out of bounds?  (No, clearly not, he wasn’t close to the sidelines).

2. Was there a player on the field hurt? (No, the television camera was not focused on any injured player).

3. Did Marvin Lewis actually call timeout? (No, they were on their own 20 with 56 seconds left in the half — a Supreme Court order couldn’t get Marvin to call timeout in that situation).

I was entirely stumped.

And then, someone from the CBS announcer crew casually said four words that made as much sense as if he had said “Egg Sedation Panda Pants.”

He said: “The Browns called timeout.”

He did not say it like, “HAS THE ENTIRE WORLD GONE MAD? ARE WE LIVING IN A UNIVERSE WITHOUT ORDER? IS UP NOW DOWN? IS GREEN NOW RED?”

No, he just said it like that, simply, the way you would say, “Oh, I left your keys on the kitchen table.”

The Browns called timeout.

Why? Why? Why? Um, why? You may ask: Why? The question is: Why? You have to wonder: Why? What’s the letter after X? Why? 

Why would the Browns call timeout? Why would the Browns, 30 seconds after not going for it fourth and three call timeout there? What possible purpose could have been ringing in the mind of Hue Jackson?

You might say: Oh, he called timeout to counter Marvin’s conservative ways — hey, if the Bengals were running out the clock, that might mean the Browns couldget the ball back.

Two things on that … no make it three:

1. The Bengals picked up five yards on that run. It was second and five. What in the history of this team would lead Hue Jackson to believe they could stop the Bengals for two more plays and get the ball back?

2. What were the Browns going to do even if they DID get the ball back? Didn’t they just prove they were too scared to go for it on fourth and three in near-field goal range? If you are too conservative to go for it on fourth and three, what possible series of events do you think can lead you to score when the other team has the ball with less than a minute left on second and 5?

3. Oh here’s the important one: The Browns ONLY HAD TWO TIMEOUTS. So even if there was any merit to the idea of getting the ball back — which there was not — they could not stop the clock on third down anyway.

It’s hard to imagine a dumber timeout. What followed had to follow. Of course, the Bengals picked up the first down on the next play, emboldening Marvin Lewis into calling his own timeout. Of course, the Bengals flopped around because they’re just not good this year.

And then, of course, with the clock at 0:00, Dalton threw a hail mary that A.J. Green pulled down in one of the more remarkable catches you’ll ever see. Touchdown Bengals.

The Browns future will rely on being smarter than 31 other NFL teams. That’s the only hope. They are starting from zero — maybe even less than zero — and so they will have to acquire better talent than anyone else, develop it better than anyone else and coach it better than anyone else. Their hope is that they will get the first pick in next year’s draft, and it will be a breathtaking quarterback* and they will build around him, a great offense, a punishing defense, and then they will match up with the best teams and minds in the sport.

*Early mock drafts have the Browns picking DeShone Kizer and isn’t that just perfect? Wasn’t he just BENCHED at Notre Dame? I mean, I know, that doesn’t tell you everything, and Kizer is an exciting young player, but maybe they could take a quarterback who hasn’t been benched.

Sorry, after watching that display from Hue Jackson, I have my doubts.

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25 Responses to Hue Gotta Be Kidding

  1. Michael Maskill says:

    As always your articles on Cleveland browns crack me up. Your writing on sports is some of the best in the business.

  2. Bryan Adams says:

    Not defending that call, but having watched every Browns game for the last seven years au least, I’m a Hue believer. This is the least talented team in a long time, and they come ready to play every week. I think Hue is going to get there. Just not this year.

    • Mr Fresh says:

      Agree. Their offensive line and defensive secondary are gawd-awful. They’ve been competitive in 5 of the 7 games. They’ll get there.. they just need more talent…..and some patience.

  3. chris says:

    I didn’t understand letting the Bengals run out the clock over the last 90s of the game. Admittedly, coming back at that point is basically impossible, but I don’t remember ever watching a coach give up on a game. When CBS switched over to the Bills, they were still playing hard at the end and got to within a score, and tried an on-side kick. It didn’t work, but at least they never quit.

    If I was the owner of the Browns, I’d have some venting to do over the ending of the game today. That was just weak.

  4. JW says:

    Joe, why watch a dying sport to begin with?

  5. John says:

    Joe, The Indians open the World Series at home on Tuesday. The Cavaliers get their championship rings at the same time. IF the Browns were good, it would screw up some kind of space-time continuum and the world would spin off its axis.

    • Scoop K says:

      The Browns are the picture of Dorian Gray for Cleveland sports. As the Cavs gather all the talent and the baseball team gets the managerial smarts, the Browns get sadder and more decrepit with each passing day.

      Unfortunately they don’t play in an attic.

  6. Unvenfurth says:

    So Terelle Pryor is not exciting?

  7. MikeN says:

    This is the type of thing that dogged the Bills for a full decade. I expected Rex Ryan to add two wins on attitude alone. Then he did the same thing last year against the Pats.

  8. MikeN says:

    Shouldn’t a good team be facing South?

  9. Cooper says:

    I think he got caught in a case of trying to juggle too many variables -and he couldn’t juggle them all –he had a 5th string QB who may or may not remember the plays and that probably came into play with his first decision. The next decision was based on the last one and there became this weird dynamic –neither team wanted the ball and both wanted to go to the locker room -when faced with having to do something -they both got overwhelmed –my point being …..Marvin Lewis handled clock management just as poorly as Hue.

  10. KHAZAD says:

    Coaching from fear that something will go wrong and will lead to uncomfortable questions at the press conference is rampant in the NFL. While I completely disagree with not going for it there, (Even not taking into account the entire season situation of the Brown’s, there are reams of statistical evidence which have shown the proper call is to go for it in that situation, it has fallen on deaf ears.)I would wager that at least 26 of the 32 NFL coaches would do the same “safe” thing. (My guess would be more like 29, but I could wager safely on 26)

    The timeout is inexplicable, but I saw someone thought of as a “good” coach do the same thing last week. That one allowed the opposing team to spike the ball with 1 second left and kick a field goal they otherwise would not have gotten. The “good” coach’s team still won, because they are better than the Browns, so it is already forgotten by just about everyone.

    I watched the Sunday night game tonight, and in overtime, the Cardinals had third and goal from about 1 foot, and they have the best running back in football. Their kicking game had been an unmitigated disaster the entire game – the main reason they had not won in regulation. SO they did something I have seen coaches do more than 100 times over 45+ years of watching football: they lined up for the field goal on 3rd down.

    The theory behind this is “What if something goes wrong?” – the idea being that if there is a bad snap, they can just fall on it and then kick again on 4th down. I have seen this happen (successfully – with the bad snap covered up followed by a successful 4th down kick) once. I have seen the third down kick blocked and run back for a game winning score twice, which might give you an idea how rare a situation they are “preparing” for.

    The announcers approved. Heck, Collinsworth wanted them to kick it on 1st down, in case there were 3 bad snaps, or a fumble, or the rapture happened between the first and second play, whisking away Carson Palmer, David Johnson, the kicker, the holder, and the long snapper.

    David Johnson probably scores from 1 foot 7 out of ten times, and the other 3 times they get the same field goal try, but Bruce Arians, who is usually thought of as a decent coach, was more worried about answering uncomfortable questions on the 1% chance that there was either a fumble on a short dive for the end zone, or a bad snap on a 4th down field goal try than he was about winning the game. The kick missed. (but the snap was fine.)

    The game ended in a tie.(With a missed short field goal by the other team, as well.)But while coaching a game built on aggression with a philosophy based so much on safety and the fear that some unlikely horrible scenario is about to happen is a self defeating concept. Unfortunately that philosophy is almost universal in the NFL.

    • nightfly says:

      And ironically, one of the other five guys (by your count) who WOULD go for it on 4th and short, Atlanta’s Dan Quinn, decided to do it in OT, from his own 45 – setting up the Chargers to chip in the game-winner after the Falcons turned it over on downs. Absolutely bizarre choice, and I’m in the “why not go for it” camp more than not. But not Barry Switzer style, when you can just pin the other team back behind their 20, and especially not in a spot where one first down for the other team gives them a good chance to nail a walk-off FG.

      The upshot is that everyone else will see that and decide to punt from 4th-and-inches from the opposing 38 and that’s why none of us can have nice things.

      • MikeN says:

        I’m going to channel Gregg Easterbrook, and declare that there are karmic benefits of going for it, giving your team a winning attitude.

    • MikeN says:

      Not only that, but Seattle is really good at blocking kicks, and perhaps affected the missed field goal too.

      • KHAZAD says:

        Yes. Considering there had already been a punt and kick blocked in the game, perhaps he should have been more worried about that happening again than a possible fumble or bad snap. But coaches are conditioned (both by their own mentors as well as the media) to think of the short field goal as the sure bet and to worry about the 1 in 100 disaster that might happen if you don’t kick it on third down.
        I think it becomes an automatic reaction rather than something they think about, and I think it is that way for most fans as well. No one hounded Bruce about why he didn’t run a third down play (in fact there was a question about whether the thought about kicking it on 1st down in the post, as if that similar kick would have had a better chance of being good.)
        If he had run the third down play and something had gone wrong with either that play or the snap on the try, Everyone would have been talking about it today. He, and other coaches, are well aware of this, and it affects their decisions, whether on a conscious or subconscious level.

  11. Chris says:

    I listened to the end of the first half on the radio and had EXACTLY the same reaction that you did, Joe. I figured that SOMEONE would call Jackson on it.

    Not the Browns radio announcers, who (I assume) are paid by the Browns. They acted like the call was perfectly reasonable.

    Not anyone in the press. One reporter did pitch Jackson a softball question in the press conference:

    Reporter: At the end of the first half, you called a timeout. Was that in hopes of stopping the Bengals and getting the ball back before time expired?

    Jackson: Yeah. If we would have stopped them and kept them from making the first down, we would have called another one. Again, we’re trying to score every chance we get, and we were going to get the ball back to start the second half and have a chance to do something before the end of the half. We’re always going to stay aggressive that way, unless (something) dictates otherwise.

    Apparently, everyone accepted his ridiculous answer — that it was a sign of staying aggressive — because no one wrote anything on it. Maybe no one who covers the team in an official capacity wants to admit (in a public forum) that it was a horrible decision, because everyone is hoping so much that Hue Jackson is the head coach who will take the Browns to respectability.

  12. Ericanadian says:

    I actually think Cleveland is showing more promise now than at any point since Braylon Edward, Derek Anderson and Kellen Winslow Jr combined for one of the most inexplicable offensive seasons in recent (does it still count as recent?) memory.

    Cody Kessler is looking fairly promising. Completing 67% of his passes, YPA of 7.1, 4-1 TD to Int ratio. Statistically, he’s looking just as good as Wentz, whom everyone seems to think is going to be great. Kessler to Coleman/Pryor could provide them a pretty solid passing offense. Crowell/Duke look like a solid one-two punch at RB.

    Their defense is absolutely awful though.. My guess is that if they get the first overall pick, they’ll trade back again and load up on defense and find someone to replace Thomas (who they seem intent on trading).

  13. Hudson Valley Slim says:

    Nothing to add to the strategy, or lack thereof, but Joe, if the Browns were a middle of the pack team, your essays couldn’t be this entertaining!

  14. Marc Schneider says:

    The Browns have actually been pretty competitive and have really not been blown out this year. They could easily have a win or two. You have to give them some credit for playing hard. But nothing is going to happen positively until they find a quarterback.

    • Matt says:

      I think you’re kinda making Joe’s point here. There shouldn’t be satisfaction in not getting blown out. They should be playing to win. Maybe they’d have that win or two “they could easily have” if they were more aggressive.

  15. Brian Schwartz says:

    I don’t think giving away tickets to next week’s home game against the Jets would be enough. The Browns should have to pay fans to attend that one.

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