Browns

Bring Back Seely and The Core Four!

I know, I know, the Browns won yesterday. But anyone who watched that game had to come away completely less than impressed. I don’t care that the record says the Browns are 3-3; yesterday’s performance was a complete embarrassment, save for the defensive unit.

The offense was putrid. The play-calling was brutal (nothing like that 3rd and 5 run from the 9 yard line where a TD would have put the game away. Guess Pat Shurmur didn’t think he could complete a pass). But of all the things that disgusted me the most (outside of the yahoos I encountered in the bathroom during the second quarter) was the special teams play of the men in White.

Phil Dawson, the Browns All-Pro kicker, nailed two 50-plus yard field goals that were the difference in the game (Imagine if the Browns had an average kicker they couldn’t really count on). Lost in all of that were the two blocked kicks he suffered thanks to “leaks” in the middle of the line.

But hey, Shurmur says “I’d venture to guess that if the ones weren’t blocked, they would have been makes” in his praise of Dawson who he calls “one heck of a football player.”  When Dawson’s first kick was blocked in the second quarter, all I could think was “the guy deserves better than this.” The last original “new’ Brown has been here through all of ups and downs (mostly downs) and now he is in the middle of his entire unit’s regression.

During the Eric Mangini regime, the Browns special teams were amongst the best in the league. The guru, Brad Seely, had his unit tight. Not that he was watching, but what he would have seen over the past two weeks (and this entire season as a whole) would have made him cringe.

Last week in Oakland, the Browns allow Raiders WR Jacoby Ford to return a kickoff for a touchdown, the first time that has happened against them since 2008. Later in the game, the Raiders pulled off a fake field goal for a touchdown when Holder/Punter Shane Lechler hit Tight End Kevin Boss for an easy six. To be burned in special teams twice in one game is indefensible, especially with the offensive limitations the Browns have.

Fast forward seven days, and new coach Chris Tabor’s boys were disgraced not once, not twice, but three times! You had the two blocked field goals (one is bad enough, but two is just inexcusable) and a punt return taken back for a TD by Seattle’s Leon Washington. Only a phantom, late thrown, block in the back penalty negated the play. Watching the replays, you still didn’t see where the flag occurred.

“It was a good call,” said Shurmur.  “I don’t know what happened, but it was a good call.  I was very glad to see the yellow flag.”

The flag saved the Browns from defeating themselves. Shurmur knows things must change immediately.

“We’ve got to get that straightened out, yes I’m concerned.  Anytime a big play happens against you in any phase I’m concerned.  You get what you emphasize and then we’ll just structure it next week to make sure we’re not getting field goals blocked and we’re not getting punts returned.”

Meanwhile in San Francisco, old friend Brad Seely is licking his chops.

Seely had the chance to stay on with Shurmur’s staff, but instead chose to go out West to join Jim Harbaugh with the 49ers. With him, he took one of the members of “The Core Four,” Blake Costanzo, generally regarded as one of the best special teamers in the game. Of the other Core Four members, only Ray Ventrone remains. Jason Trusnik is in Miami and Nick Sorensen is now out of football.

Seely, The Core Four, and Josh Cribbs led the Browns to special teams excellence over the past three years, and now what we are seeing is bottom of the barrel.

As I said earlier, with the offensive struggles this team will have with the lack of playmakers, banged up line, and a new scheme, it is of the utmost importance that the Browns do the little things to keep themselves competitive. Special teams certainly fall under that category.

So far, new coach Chris Tabor’s unit isn’t getting a passing grade from me.

  • It’s a tough balancing act to be sure. With Mangini/Seely’s group, it was almost like they rostered guys who excelled in special teams, but were screwed when those guys had to play defense when injuries occurred. Now, focusing more on talent, special teams is left hung out to dry unless you want to risk putting your starters in during those car-wreck type of plays.

    Perhaps the latter is the answer for now, similar to what Tressel did last season with the Buckeyes special teams group. The other answer would be to get the coverage units and offensive line outside of Ryan Pointbriand to get their collective act together.

  • LaundroMat

    “I don’t know what happened, but it was a good call.” Ok, where “good” means “good for us.” I’m sure he realizes how fortunate that was.

  • Not to thread-jack, but Pat Shurmur ran the ball like crazy and was trying to win a game after Colt McCoy’s two main targets Ben Watson and Mohamed Massaquoi were already knocked out. They threw downfield once, and used screen passes pretty effectively along with the running game. I think your play-calling criticisms are a bit unfair.

    I couldn’t agree more with everything else. I was happy when this team stopped using roster spots on special teams specialists because I figured young guys with future starter potential could easily fill those roles. I don’t know if I was wrong or if this coach stinks at special teams, but something needs to be changed. I don’t know if it is personnel or coaching, but I am open to trying either or both.

  • Shamrock

    Every week it’s something else with this team I think that speaks for itself.

  • Harv 21

    Throughout the league there are competent special teams without reserving multiple roster spots for older guys who do one thing. So the problem is either the players’ ability/commitment to ST or their coaching.

    The breakdowns have been in all phases of special teams, so I’m guessing the source is more than just a bunch of young guys paying more attention to their “real” positions. Shurmer probably just selected a sub-par assistant who will need to be replaced. Happens all the time in the league.

    And if the price of keeping Seely was keeping Mangini, I’ll cover my eyes and wait this through. Shurmer will do what’s necessary to keep his job.

  • @Harv… just a little pet peeve… Shurmur… Shurmur… Shurmur… It took me months to stop typing Shurmer by accident, but I did it.

    Your opinions are too smart and thought out to not get the name right.

  • Chris

    Honestly, it’s weird… at the same time that I couldn’t stand watching more than a quarter and a half of this game (watched the whole second quarter and turned it off when we scored our second fieldgoal), I actually think our offense looked much improved.

  • oribiasi

    Where are the “it’s only been X games, don’t be so hard on Shurmur” people? Does this game finally cement the idea that he has no business being BOTH an Offensive Coordinator and a Head Coach?

    Let’s not forget that Shurmur hired his Special Teams coach. Yikes.

    And then, that post-game pep talk from him to the team…you’d have thought the team won the Super Bowl when he said “I’ll see you Wednesday.” The way the Off. and S.T. played, I’d have their @$$es out there AFTER the game to work on just about everything.

    He consistently is outmatched intellectually and we only won the game due to a questionable “block in the back” on yet ANOTHER special teams debacle. Let’s not forget two (yes, 2) blocked field goals. When has that happened in the last 5 years for the Browns?!

    I’d love to hear from Shurmur supporters today.

  • mgbode

    I miss Brad Seeley. Someone needs to go to the SF game this weekend w/ a “I <3 Seeley" sign in Brown & Orange. What else can be said there?

  • Harv 21

    Thanks, Craig. My pet pieve too. Won’t happen again.

  • Pale Dragon

    It is embarrassing for us to try to hang our hats on the Browns having good special teams. Yes, special teams are important; but if you have good offense and good defense, you can get by with average special teams. Do you hear people raving about the special teams gunners for teams like Green Bay or Pittsburgh? No, because that’s not why they win games.

    The blocked kicks are obviously a concern, but if our offense was able to get into the end zone just once on those four drives, the issue is moot.

  • mgbode

    @Scott – “The other answer would be to get the coverage units and offensive line outside of Ryan Pointbriand to get their collective act together.”

    ok, here comes some Browns blasphemy. Include Pontbriand in that group. 2 of his snaps were well off the mark (a new trend this season) though both were within the window and put down. That part is probably just being spoiled by his perfect snaps all these years though.

    what is not is that off the snap, he is dropping his head and basically hitting the turf. He did not touch one defender on 3/4 kicks and his “move” looked like it was a target for the Seahawks. the 2nd block may have been the fault of Cousins (as Pinkston got stuck trying to stop 2 guys), but it could have been Pontbriand’s responsibility on the inside guy (don’t know their responsibilities there).

  • Chris

    you can get by with average special teams

    2 blocked FG in the same game is not even close to average.

  • oribiasi

    @ mgbode: Because the players on special teams haven’t really changed much and the offense is essentially the same (minus a left-guard and plus a receiver/running back), can you please admit that the only real tangible change that could affect their play is coaching? It’s the only logical answer.

    (Now I will wait for “they didn’t have an offseason” even though it’s week 7 in the NFL and that stuff is behind every other team.)

  • Pale Dragon

    @Chris: Yes, our special teams were below average yesterday. My point is, an improved offense will do a lot more for this team than improved special teams. If you make all of the field goals, it is 12-3. Still not great. If you score TDs instead of FGs on those four drives, but still allow the punt return TD, it is 28-10. Much better.

  • mgbode

    @Oribiasi – I believe I have already. see post #9.

    though, the players have changed more on STs because Seeley forced more starters to play them than we do now. that is a coaches decision as well though.

    —————

    offense is a bit more complicated, obviously, but the fact that McCoy is missing easy throws and our WRs are dropping the ones that get to them is disconcerting. i’ll go more into that when we get a game thread today though. let’s keep this one STs.

  • Harv 21

    @Chris: it’s worse than just 2 blocked FGs. One was a chippie to put the game away from close range, which means that the kick trajectory was high enough to clear anything but an o-lineman doing nothing to resist the rush. This is lack of effort or lack of understanding or some unholy combination thereof, and the fact that it’s also happened on kick coverage in consecutive games points to the coaching, at least in my mind.

  • Chris

    Harv, I agree. I’m honestly wondering, with all the locker room drama we hear about and the seeming lack of effort… compare it to last year when we had players giving everything they could every single game and actually talking about playoffs.

    I’ve been wondering if Shurmur even has the respect of his players right now. Certainly when I respect my boss, I work a hell of a lot harder for him.

  • Vengeful Pat

    @mgbode – yeah I definitely noticed that somebody was forced to take on two defenders in one of the field goal blocks, but I didn’t see who it was… if it was Pinkston, then that blocked kick wasn’t his fault… the shame belongs to the idiot who missed his assignment and forced Pinkston to take on two massive defenders.

    I apologize as this has nothing to do with our crappy special teams, but I thought Ogbonnaya did a fantastic job. I’m actually going to praise Shurmur for that pickup… Oggy (as he is bound to be called) did a nice job in pass protection and seemed really comfortable in Shurmur’s offense. He made himself available for passes and did a nice job with his runs, and he’s a big reason that we went 50% on third down plays and kept possession of the football (he got the 1st down on three 3rd down plays).

  • JM

    See you Wednesday? Maybe the defense. Offense and Special Teams should be there every day after that disgrace.

  • Hetz

    @ Pale Dragron:
    Yes, your offense does more for you than your special teams, but not by much. Special teams often account for 40% of the yards gained by a team. Yesterday, even with the TD return called back, they accounted for 41% of the yards gained by the Seahawks (99 out of 236). Conversely, the Browns gained only 11% of their yards on special teams.

    The average yards per play is much higher on special teams, and the potential for big plays is much higher too. As seen yesterday, you can absolutely dominate the game with your offense and defense (almost 43 miniutes time of possession) and still almost lose the game because of special teams.

    Special teams comes down to fundamentals, and this level of excecution is unacceptable.

  • DonFelder

    Special teams is important. As I said in another thread, just do a little research on the San Diego Chargers of recent years. Those teams had scary offensive prowess and were all-around solid teams that got derailed by special teams quite often.

  • DonFelder

    Or for an example closer to home, the Steelers of 2009-2010 were one of the weaker teams in recent Pittsburgh memory. Their poor special teams play accounted for a large part of that mediocrity. Just remember Josh Cribbs singlehandedly beating them in December 09.

  • mgbode

    @VP – “the idiot who missed his assignment and forced Pinkston to take on two massive defenders”

    good for us that we can blame 2 different guys. Cousins on the first block completely whiffed. So bad that he was yanked for Mack the rest of the game. I want to give Mack the benefit of the doubt (not his normal job), but he was absolutely pathetic on that 2nd block.

    the ‘highlight’ is there on nfl.com, but i’m not linking to it here because i’m not quite that mean to people who would be too lazy to have to rewatch that by going there themselves.