At the beginning of every college football season as Ohio State’s juggernaut sets off on its next quest for a national championship, it begins by playing teams from the Mid-American Conference, or the Sun Belt Conference, or the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, or Conference USA. On extremely rare occasion, the Buckeyes get ambushed by a team such as the Virginia Tech Hokies, but generally they dispose of the sacrificial lambs by scores that are downright embarrassing (or should be): 56-10 over the Miami University RedHawks; 76-0 over the Florida A&M Rattlers; 66-0 over Kent State; 38-0 over the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors.
It must be as difficult for Ohio State fans to appreciate these “victories” as it is to admire the architecture of an abattoir. Surely there are some responsible fans asking themselves, “Is this fair? Is this right? Do these teams belong on the same field as the Ohio State Buckeyes?”
Inevitably, such sentiments are creeping into the conversation about the so-called Browns-Steelers rivalry. Following the Steelers’ 30-9 drubbing of the Browns on Sunday, Gene Collier, columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote this under the title, “Cleveland Clowns help Steelers cruise to win.”
“Normally there’s nothing to be gained by being so vituperative, but in losing for the 13th time in the past 15 games, Cleveland really outdid itself Sunday, clown-wise, committing 12 penalties that pushed itself backward and the Steelers forward a total of 188 yards, not including four penalties that were either declined or offset that would have vaulted the self-flagellation beyond the almost unimaginable 200-yard mark.”
David Hartz, a commenter on that post and presumably a Steelers fan, added this:
“The Browns will always be the Browns. With such merry-go-rounds of coaches and QBs, how can a team ever have the stability to compete? They have to rely on Any Given Sunday for their wins. It’s way more appropriate to pity them these days than hate them.”
The Browns are, unfortunately, coming across as clowns to the football world, in large part because of this “merry-go-round of coaches and quarterbacks” and it was no surprise whatsoever that after another loss where the quarterback question was as close to irrelevant as it could be, that most of the post-game questions, most of the hype, most of the ink, most of the air time should be devoted to Johnny Manziel and whether he should be named the starter for the remainder of the 2015 schedule. Well, Tuesday’s news out of Berea is that he will, it turns out, but given the gravity of the overall condition of the Browns T-E-A-M, you’d think there would be more responses like, “Oh, who cares!”
On Sunday in Pittsburgh, the Browns, again, were penalized a staggering number of times, the defense, again, put almost no pressure on the opposing quarterback and gave up 462 yards and 30 points. So what is the drumbeat that follows? The demand to change quarterbacks, of course, which is as much a fixture of the Cleveland sports scene as John Adams’s big bass drum. And speaking of merry-go-rounds, this initial drumbeat has been followed by another — the demand to fire everybody within screaming distance of the offices in Berea.
Much closer to the truth, however, is that the outcome of the Browns-Steelers game on Sunday could not have been altered by different quarterbacks for either team. In all likelihood, Landry Jones would have had plenty of time to pick apart the Browns defense. In all likelihood, a healthy Josh McCown, Brian Hoyer, or Aaron Rodgers would have played about as well as Manziel … and still lost the game.
A dominant set of pass rushers for the Browns might have made a difference. A couple of lock-down cornerbacks would certainly have helped. Play calling? Schemes? Who knows? Either A) the players are not playing well enough, or B) the coaches are not coaching well enough, or C) it’s a combination of the two.
What does Mike Pettine say? At Monday’s press conference he said, “You don’t want to wholesale question what you’re doing, but you have to isolate it. I think it falls back to when you have negative plays, you look at the ‘why.’ Is it something schematic? Is it something from a technique standpoint or is it something from a personnel standpoint? As you pile up answers in each category, that steers you to a solution. If it’s schematic, we have to change it or throw it out. If it’s technical, we have to practice it better. If it is personnel, we have to shake up the lineup.”
Regarding defensive schemes, Pettine goes further: “… Your issues are, when you are not a Cover 2 team, where you are going to have safety help on both sides, when that is not what you are and that is not what this system has ever been, then you are going to be rolling one side or the other. They did a good job of finding the side we weren’t rolling to. I think at times, our safeties didn’t disguise … well enough and gave him (Roethlisberger) a little bit of information pre-snap on where to go with the football. This system has been in place, I have roots in it going way back and it has had a lot of success. I am not going to get here and sit in here and think that we have to switch to be a Cover 2 team with two high safeties in order to be successful because then it is pick your poison. Then you have issues defending the run when you only have seven defenders down and they can get a helmet on a helmet. I am not going to get deep in scheme discussions.”
Interesting that, here, Pettine refers to the Browns safeties tipping their hands. You may recall that on occasion during the game Roethlisberger came up behind center, barked out a loud “hut”, then backed off and called out his adjustment. Okay, thought Roethlisberger, if your safeties are going there, I’ll throw to the other side.
Pettine went further: “I am very active with the defense now as it is. I get together with (defensive coordinator) Jimmy (O’Neil) each week. I am well versed on the call sheet. What he is calling … is not all that different because he and I were kind of raised together in it. He and I did all the game plans together in New York and were together in Buffalo. He understands the thinking of it. … We need to play better defensively. We need to trust our technique. We get some guys out there, some young guys who fall back into some old habits on game day – things that they execute in practice well – footwork, getting hands on guys and that type of stuff. Unfortunately, you get guys in the game, and they kind of lose their minds a little bit. We gave up some big plays that way, but as a result, I am not looking to make wholesale changes. We know there are corrections that need to be made.”
Here again, Pettine reveals it doesn’t seem to be the scheme but rather its execution. “You get guys in the game and they kind of lose their minds a little bit … our safeties didn’t disguise well enough.” There are probably coaches who wouldn’t give the media that much detail, but Pettine did. Then immediately afterward the bozos (think sports talk radio here) accuse Pettine of throwing his guys under the bus, and say they have no doubt Pettine will be fired at the end of the season. And, of course, Ray Farmer and his entire staff will be gone. Of this they have no doubt!
Well, there are clowns and there are clowns. For those fans, however, who might appreciate paying for something besides the usual quarterback-centric love-fest/hate-fest and “fire everybody” approach, much of the media is committing a kind of journalism malpractice. It might be termed professional misconduct or negligence, but since this is only football as entertainment, let’s just call it a type of buffoonery that contributes to the circus that is Cleveland professional football.
Take a look around the NFL. As if to symbolize exactly who is the number one quarterback, Tom Brady’s rating currently stands at 111.1. Carolina’s Cam Newton is far down the list with a rating of 84.8. And yet, whaddya know? New England and Carolina sit atop the league with unblemished 9-0 records. Further, much further, down the list of quarterbacks is future Hall-of-Famer, Peyton Manning with a dismal rating of 67.6. The Denver Broncos are 7-2.
Right behind Tom Brady is Carson Palmer of the Arizona Cardinals at 108.0. The Cardinals are also 7-2. Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor’s stats aren’t as voluminous as Brady’s and Palmer’s, but he’s been efficiently good enough to be ranked number three in the NFL at 106.2. That’s only been good enough, however, for his team to be 5-4. Andy Dalton, accustomed to being booed, is rated number four at 104.6. His team was undefeated until the Houston Texans defeated the Bengals on Monday night, 10-6, in a classic defensive struggle. In spite of the Bengals success behind Dalton this season, the boo-birds (clowns) were back out in Cincinnati on Monday night.
The scrambling of the teams in contention and out of contention this season just adds to the overwhelming historical evidence that while quarterbacks are far from irrelevant, they are also far from determinant of a team’s success. Look at the Green Bay Packers this year, or the Seattle Seahawks.
The Browns — again — will enter the 2016 NFL draft needing upgrades at virtually every position. And yet — again — some members of the circus are assuming/calling for/demanding the Browns draft a quarterback in the first round. Oh brother, here we go again.
Over the next seven games the Browns organization will be working hard to determine which of the above quandaries they’re in: A, B, or C and what they can do about it. And hopefully, by January 3rd when the Steelers come to Cleveland for the final regular season game, they’ll have a positive answer to the question of whether the Browns do, in fact, belong on the same field as the Steelers.
But if the Browns are clowns, aren’t we all? There are plenty of costumes to go around. Will we fans respond any differently? Probably not. Will we surrender the season tickets? No. Will we at least stop watching the games live when we could watch a game in 30 minutes — if, and only if, it’s entertaining? No. The fact remains, it’s supposed to be entertainment and when it’s not going well on stage, the frustrated performers know it and begin to ask, “Should we send in the clowns,” you know, to keep the patrons from walking out?
Stephen Sondheim wrote Send in the Clowns for the 1973 musical A Little Night Music. Later, Frank Sinatra, Judy Collins, Barbra Streisand, Plácido Domingo, Sarah Vaughan, Shirley Bassey and a slew of others recorded it. At the end of the season, maybe Jimmy Haslem could do a country-western version.
Don’t you love farce? My fault, I fear
I thought that you’d want what I want, sorry, my dear
But where are the clowns, send in the clowns
Don’t bother, they’re here