By Brendan DeVenney
It’s the Cleveland Browns bye week this week heading into their Week 10 matchup with the Detroit Lions. And at 0-8, this is going to be the longest final eight weeks of Cleveland Browns fans’ lives.
But, remember, we’ve been through this before. At this point in the season last year the Browns were 0-9. Cleveland didn’t end up winning a game last year until Week 16 against San Diego (now Los Angeles) on Christmas Eve. They finished 1-15.
Now after nine weeks this year, the Browns and Hue Jackson are a combined 1-23. So, you have to start wondering where they’ve gone wrong, what the deal is that they can’t find a way to win at least one football game, and what moves will be made.
The Browns in eight games have already started two different quarterbacks, and have played three hurlers total. Combined, DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan, and Cody Kessler have thrown 16 interceptions. The other winless team, the San Francisco 49ers, have started two quarterbacks and have thrown just 8 interceptions. So, the Browns aren’t even the better winless team.
This past week saw the front office come under even more fire. General Manager Sashi Brown took ownership for the staff’s 23 losses in less than two years, but also said that they’re on path to get better. Well, in reality, that’s nonsense.
“We have some more pieces we have to drop in here to get the roster to where it needs to be, but there are signs of progress that people can be excited about and look forward to. At the same time, we are disappointed in the results and we own those.” Basically what’s Sashi is saying here is that Browns fans shouldn’t panic. Well, Cleveland fans are done with panicking. They’ve given up on a team that is never favored to win a game, and have stopped showing up at home games. The last home game versus Tennessee saw an attendance of 59,061. That’s the least number of fans to watch the Browns all year. FirstEnergy Stadium seats 67,895. Bottom line, that’s not good if you’re Jimmy and Dee Haslam.
Speaking of the Haslam’s, you have to wonder what on earth they’re thinking and planning on doing. There has been rumors circulating on bringing in two-time Super Bowl Champion Peyton Manning to be the head of football operations. If Jimmy Haslam is going to bring him in, it has to be soon. But he has two things going on in his life right now: taking care of the Pilot Flying J scandal, and trying to fix the worst team in pro sports. Now who would want that life?
The Pilot Flying J scandal sees two former employees of Haslam, the CEO of the company, going to trial this week on multiple charges including conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. The employees were the vice president of sales and two executive assistants. With Haslam being focused on this at this point in the Cleveland Browns’ franchise history, it makes for an even more messed up organization, because then it shows that your owner isn’t fully invested in trying to fix this team.
Now, Sashi Brown continuously makes trades to get more and more draft picks. Cleveland has more draft picks in the upcoming 2018 draft than any other team in the league with 13. Getting better through the draft has worked for many teams through the years. The 2008 Detroit Lions became the first team to go 0-16. After that, they drafted Matt Stafford and Brandon Pettigrew, and in 2009 went 2-14. In 2010, they drafted Ndamukong Suh to help fortify the defense, and they ended up going 6-10. And in 2011, they drafted Nick Fairley and Titus Young, and added Erik Coleman and Rashied Davis to go 10-6 and make the playoffs. It took the Lions three years to go from 0-16 to a playoff team. Since then, Detroit has either qualified for the NFC Wild Card game or had a losing record. But General Manager Martin Mayhew, who stepped down after the 2015 season, turned around a franchise in Detroit through the draft. He found a quarterback in Stafford, and helped bring in pieces and parts to help both him and the coaching staff. So, as the Lions have showed, building through the draft works. But why doesn’t it with the Browns?
Well, it’s the ineptitude of the front office to get the draft correct and the insensibility to find the right head coach. The 28 different starting quarterbacks since 1999 is not something to be proud of, and at some point this front office needs to find the guy. We’re relying solely on backup quarterbacks at Weeks 8 and 9 and 10 in the season to try to win ballgames. Backup quarterbacks aren’t meant to win football games. The Patriots have had 5 starting quarterbacks since 1999. Of course, they have Tom Brady, a future Hall of Fame quarterback. But why since 1999 could the Browns never have drafted a future Hall of Fame starting quarterback? Plus, Hue Jackson is the Browns’ ninth head coach since 1999. Owners and front offices in the past can’t even find the right head coach! None of those coaches have had a winning record. And Jackson as of now holds the worst record of all those head coaches.
You can write about the Browns’ struggles since 1999, but this is the worst the franchise has ever been at 1-23 under Hue Jackson. The relationship between the front office and the coaching staff has proven not to be mutual. Just recently, the Browns failed to complete a trade with Cincinnati to acquire quarterback A.J. McCarron, a national champion from Alabama. Jackson was excited about him ever since he went into the draft, and Jackson has seen him wear a Bengals uniform when Cincinnati drafted him with Jackson at the helm of the offense for the Bengals in 2014. Who knows if that could have worked out. Sadly, we’ll never know because the front office botched the trade and never completed the proper paper work in time at the trade deadline. What’s worse is that the Sashi Brown-led front office never came out and spoke on the issue.
This year’s team has had multiple issues on the field (which can be read as an understatement). The Browns have had just two leads, with the first lasting two plays. The offense is sixth worst in the league in yards per game, tied for second worst in number of touchdowns, and dead last with 21 turnovers, including 17 interceptions and 4 fumbles.
Hue Jackson’s play calling and time management has been some of the worst the Browns have ever seen. Kenny Britt, who is being paid $32 million for four years, has dropped more passes than he has caught in each game this season. He dropped seven passes in the loss to Indianapolis. Kicker Zane Gonzalez could arguably be the worst kicker Cleveland has ever had, missing four field goals and a PAT.
And as far as the quarterbacks go, here’s their stats that want to make you cringe. Kizer has thrown 11 interceptions, with four of them being in the red zone. He has also fumbled once, with it being in the red zone. In the red zone, he’s 6 for 18, completing 31% of his passes, with 3 touchdowns. That’s not necessarily great. In fact, that’s the worst in the league.
Kevin Hogan has played a little better in red zone, going 3 for 5 with a touchdown and 0 picks. But in the Houston game, with a chance to keep the Browns in the game and give them the lead, he went 20 for 37, throwing 3 interceptions. Cody Kessler has not started a game, but came in in the Titans game, a game some people have said is the worst NFL game ever, with a chance to win the ballgame. Instead, he went 10 for 19 and an interception.
So many times the Browns could have won games. Four of their losses are by three points. Those are games Cleveland needs to be able to win to improve and show progress. Hopefully they can get a win with Corey Coleman and Josh Gordon, two wide receiving hopefuls, coming back to the squad in the next few weeks. Coleman is returning off the injured reserved list, and Gordon is returning after his suspension. The next eight opponents for the Browns see three teams with a .500 record or better. That means that the Browns play five teams with losing records. It shouldn’t be a problem putting some pressure on the Browns with those two receivers back and a capable quarterback in Kizer to at least win two of those games.
And, looking at a Cleveland sports perspective, the Browns should be crying themselves to sleep when they watch the Cavaliers and Indians make the Postseason every year now. Before the Cavaliers’ recent game against the Bulls, LeBron James, who since returning to Cleveland has been a proud supporter of both the Indians and Browns (honestly, who knows about the latter), said, “I’ve got a lot of opinions on the Browns. But I’m not going to get into that. I’ve never been 1-22 in nothing. Nothing.” We can all find that easy to believe when it comes to the talent that lives inside LeBron James. But when Mr. Cleveland hilariously slams the Browns, you have issues.
Until then, all Browns fans can do now is get ready for an interesting offseason in Berea. Will Peyton Manning actually come to the rescue of the Browns? Will we draft another quarterback in April? Will Hue Jackson be gone by New Year’s? All questions that wait to be answered after these next eight rough weeks.
James at a Browns game compared to him at an Indians game. Big difference, right?