Monday, October 23, 2006

The Morning After: Denver

Broncos 17, Browns 7
Record: 1-5

Some teams use their bye week to get healthy. Some use it to make some minor adjustments to the playbook. Some use it as a time for soul-searching.

The Browns, it appears, did none of the above.

More and more, this Browns season is starting to resemble a deer in headlights: frozen, stricken, incapable of altering course to avoid the impending disaster hurtling toward it.

Looking as bad as they have looked since the Week 2 loss to the Bengals, the Browns offense managed just 165 yards of total offense and ran about 30 fewer plays than the Broncos -- hardly an offensive juggernaut themselves -- ran.

The offensive line was an embarrassment yet again, allowing Charlie Frye to be sacked five times and knocked down countless others. At times, the offensive line seemed to serve merely as starting blocks for the Broncos' sprint to the passer. Many times, the Broncos got to Frye unimpeded.

This game was so bad, it could represent a turning point for Romeo Crennel's tenure in Cleveland.

Crennel had a chance to try something different. He had a chance to take the playcalling away from Maurice Carthon. He had a chance to shake up the playbook, to light a fire under the offensive line, to do something to salvage this season.

Instead, he played a fiddle while 72,000 fans burned in the stands Sunday.

Only Crennel knows if it's stubbornness, strategic paralysis or genuine cluelessness that is preventing change. What is known by the rest of us is that Crennel is starting to write his ticket out of town.

We know the fans and media aren't happy. But if reports are correct, Crennel's players are also wondering what is going on with the offense. That is the most important factor. If Crennel loses his players, he can't stay.

For a while, I've been wondering if 57 is a bit too old to be getting your first NFL head coaching job, as Crennel did. By the time you've been in football for 30-plus years, you generally know what you know and you don't want to hear about anything else.

To change the Browns, the tangled mess that they are, you need energy, adaptability and creativity. I don't know if Crennel, after 30 years of this grind, has those qualities in requisite amounts anymore.

Time may prove that time is working against Crennel, who will soon be 60. As he gets older, his desire to wade through the muck and turn this franchise around will decrease, not increase.

Ideally, if you're going to hire a first-time head coach, you'd probably want to hire a 30- or 40-something coordinator like Marvin Lewis or Lovie Smith. Of course, the Browns already tried that with Chris Palmer and it was a bust.

But that's only the tip of the iceberg. Beyond Crennel, you have a detached owner in Randy Lerner, someone who has a new pet in Aston Villa, and might be more inclined to spend the bulk of his time in England following the Queen's football. At the moment, he's not really good for being a strong organizational leader on this side of the pond.

You also have, In Phil Savage, a GM who doesn't really perform all the GM duties. Savage's concentration on upgrading the talent level of the roster is admirable, but there is much more that goes into being a GM. In addition to forming the roster, you have to be the voice of the front office and facilitate change when necessary. Of course, Savage is all but a non-sequitur in Cleveland this time of year, opting instead to traverse the land looking for kids to draft next April.

That works great if you have a head coach who has everything together and has the team winning. But Crennel doesn't, and subsequently, Savage's job duties include "organizational watchdog" in addition to "roster architect," at least for the time being. He is performing the latter, but is negligent on the former.

So, combine the three factors: an old-yet-inexperienced head coach, a detached owner and a frequently out-of-town GM, and you have to ask, who is really running this ship?

One or more of the trio of Lerner, Crennel and Savage will likely be gone by the time the Browns figure out how to field a winning team again.

Up next: New York Jets, Sunday, 4 p.m.


Andy said...

You've said it all. I am starting to feel apathy for the Browns as I expect a pitiful performance like this weekend every Sunday. It was zero to zero when I was ready to turn the game off, knowing full well that it was already over. Joshua Cribbs just muffed a punt after an energetic defense made a nice stop deep in Denver territory. I think at that point, and knowing the Browns made no changes during the bye week, it was over. The score may not have shown it yet, but it was. This franchise used to have deep tradition and a rich history on its side. Many older people across the country are Browns fans because they watched Jim Brown run. Now, we have an entire generation of future NFL fans growing up thinking the Cleveland Browns are about the same as the Arizona Cardinals. In other words, they won't be Browns fans. When the fans stop caring or stop getting angry, then the Browns should really worry. It’s coming though. Sooner or later Cleveland stadium will no longer be sold out if changes aren’t made, and that is really sad. I am so frustrated with them.

Mark said...

I want to say that you're wrong about Crennel being too old to be a coach. I want to say that you're being unfair to him. I just can't bring myself to do it.

It's proven that the younger, more dynamic coaches are the ones that rule the league, except if you're someone like Bill Parcells who is a proven winner and can make people respect him.

History shows that you are correct. As greats such as Tom Landry, Chuck Noll, and Mike Ditka aged, their abilities to succed and keep their teams in check faded as well. Dick Vermeil and Jim Mora, while reaching the playoffs, achieved only marginal success as they aged. If you want to go further, even Parcells isn't doing outstanding things with the Cowboys, but that could be another story completely.

Maybe there is something to that, "You know all you're going to want to know at that age in football" argument.

As for Lerner, I've never seen him as anything more than a passive owner who claims to care about winning, but doesn't surround himself with the people to do it. Savage is included in this description. People can change though: look at what Mike Illitch's change of heart has done with the Tigers in Detroit.

And then look at what Bill Ford has done with the Lions in Detroit by refusing to change. Your choice, Randy.