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.