I’m not calling for the Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson to be fired… yet. The rebuild is still less than two years old where most every useful veteran was removed from the roster leaving this staff with the youngest team in the NFL, two years running. The expectations were that executing The Plan from the Harvard Brain Trust (HBT) would be a difficult process that left us frustrated as the foundation of future contending years was built.
However, there were some expectations of competence and development for Year 2. Having the most penalized team with the worst turnover ratio, least amount of points per game scored, and a bottom 10 defense in points per game is not what anybody had in mind. Development is never a linear process, but it is disheartening to see how wretched the team has been in 2017.
After a 2016 season in Jackson led the team to a 1-15 record, there were many proclamations how it was not a death knell in the NFL as many great, successful coaches before him had initial stumbles before building great teams. It should also then be noted these coaches showed obvious progress- in wins and losses- in the second year. Tom Landry went 0-11-1 his first year, but 4-9 his second. Jimmie Johnson’s 1-15 with Troy Aikman was followed by a 7-9 season. Chuck Knoll’s 1-13 saw a 5-9 step. And, Bill Walsh jumped from 2-14 to 6-10. No one on this list was competing for playoff spots, let alone championships, that second year, but they sure were a much more competitive team.
After a 0-7 start for the Browns, even achieving four wins- the low bar above though with three more games in which to achieve it- would require a 4-5 finish, which seems near impossible from the efforts on the field thus far. If not, the only head coach in NFL history I could find with a similar start to his career that continued to be employed in Year 3 was John McVay. He went 0-14, then 2-12 with the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers before eventually rebounding some and scraping three playoff seasons together in his nine seasons with the team.1
Compounding the matter is Jackson’s handling of the quarterback situation. While the Browns hold a less than ideal combination at the game’s most important position, Jackson has done little to calm anyone about it with his proclamations and actions along the way. Cody Kessler entered Training Camp as the starter whom others would have to take it from him. It took less than two weeks before Kessler was third string with Brock Osweiler starting and DeShone Kizer taking second-string snaps. Kizer was named the starter before preseason Game 3 and Osweiler waived from the team by the end of August putting Kevin Hogan as the backup quarterback despite limited snaps received.
Jackson assured us he would stick with Kizer through the ups and downs of his rookie season. He did not. “I know what everybody is concerned about – that I have this quick hook.” Jackson said on Wednesday. Later adding “I have patience. I have had patience up until whatever game it was I first took him out.”
It was Week 5 when Kizer was benched for Hogan against the New York Jets giving Hogan the start in Week 6, which went so well that Kizer was re-instituted as the starter for Week 7 and Kessler emerged as the backup even before Hogan injured his ribs at practice. Jackson, again, benched Kizer during the Week 7 game after a couple of interceptions, but he, again, named Kizer the starter for Week 8. Yeah, everybody is concerned about that quick hook for a reason.
“Like I said, last week, (Kizer) started off extremely well. He has to finish it that way.” Jackson reasoned. “I would like to have a game where we have no turnovers, period. That is what we are chasing, and just see what happens after the game then and see where we are. That is the message that I give to the team and also to the quarterback room.”
Kizer does have a high interception rate- though lower than Hogan. He was also taking too many sacks early in the season; something he now does less than any of the other quarterbacks to take snaps behind center for the Browns. For his part, Kizer notes he understands where Jackson is trying to lead him. “You don’t ever have to worry about me not bringing aggressiveness. That is who I am.” Kizer said. “My instincts are always going to want to push the ball down the field, but also accepting that not putting the ball in harm’s way is the best thing for us.”
Jackson and the Browns head to London before their bye week. For their sake and our sanity, a surprise upset victory over the Minnesota Vikings would be grand. There are fewer and fewer games left upon which the current coaches can help demonstrate they are part of the long-term solution in Cleveland. It is up to them to have something tangible to bring to their end of season exit interviews. Well, there’s nothing more tangible than some wins.
- Wow, let’s point out that the often derided and laughed at expansion Buccaneers would be a significant step up from what the Browns have given us since 1999. Sigh. [↩]