When placing blame for 2017 failures, look everywhere in Browns’ organization

Our society isn’t built to accept losing today any more than it was from golden generations past. Failure has a way of meticulously wearing its subject down, a way of bringing out the character traits we fight to hide. In the heat of competition, losing manifests an emotion people often wouldn’t expose.

Understand losing for a short period of time can be overcome. People tend to trust their prior success and find ways to hang on to the necessary faith. In short term failure, optimism and hope can erase our growing negative emotions. It is the constant fear of losing beyond the short term when it becomes most dangerous – when losing becomes habitual.

Consistent losing breeds blame, and when blame happens it starts a slow path to insufferable consequences. For the Browns organization, constant losing has its fanbase in a precarious position. Factions of fans are gathered around hatred ready to jump feet first into collective think groups.

The Browns ineptitude since 1996 has scarred this fan base to no end. With every failed regime that has come and gone, Browns fans are left asking themselves, “will we ever win here?” The tough reality is no single group is more to blame for the Browns issue than the rest. If you dig deep enough, you will find that the failure within the Browns current situation is beyond a simple fix, and its entirety can’t be heaped onto the shoulders of one group within the franchise. Each group has contributed to the overall failure, lets take a look.

The Owner

Oct 29, 2017; London, United Kingdom; Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam watches during  pregame. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Jimmy Haslam is the point man for all issues within the Cleveland Browns organization. He is the man responsible for a consistent failed chain of command, constant personnel turnover, and ignorance to simple intelligent decision making. Since Haslam bought the team in 2012, he has been responsible for three CEO’s, four general managers, and four different head coaches.1

The best organizations in football have stability where it matters most. They stick with general managers and head coaches for more than one or two year stints, and when they formulate a plan, they don’t deviate from that plan. That is exactly what we have seen from Jimmy Haslam in his time leading the Cleveland Browns. He has not provided one of his head coaches more than two years and his constant front office turnover, recently highlighted by firing Sashi Brown in November, fails to evoke any confidence. Even with the recent hire of a well-respected football mind like John Dorsey, the fact that Haslam still oversees the entire operation fails to give necessary hope. There is no way around it, Jimmy Haslam is the biggest problem with the Cleveland Browns.

The Front Office

CINCINNATI, OH – NOVEMBER 26, 2017: Executive vice president, football operations Sashi Brown of the Cleveland Browns walks along the sideline prior to a game on November 26, 2017 against the Cincinnati Bengals. (Photo by: 2017 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

The biggest topic for debate has been the performance of the current front office. The Browns made a commitment to something new before the start of the 2016 off-season. They decided to bring in an unknown in Sashi Brown and pair him up with Paul DePodesta and Andrew Berry in an attempt to align with analytics and asset acquisition in order to build something that had long-term sustainability in Cleveland. Browns brass and fans were tired of the constant 3-13, 4-12 types seasons, and decided that tearing the entire operation to the ground was the best route to take in order to build from scratch.

With that plan the Browns saw veteran players like Mitchell Schwartz, Tashaun Gipson, Jordan Poyer, and Travis Benjamin leave. The plan was clear from the beginning: clear the dysfunction to try to find the necessary and sustainable long-term function. With this plan came great risk, and it’s fair to say the timing was bad with the talent at the top end of the 2016 draft. The Browns clearly wanted to add picks, and they found that route with a trade to ship their number two pick to Philadelphia. The problem is, that pick could have net the Browns the top-end talent such as Carson Wentz, Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliot, or Jalen Ramsey.

Sashi and company had a task to add draft capital, and they clearly did it. It’s also fair to blame them for missing out on that elite 2016 draft talent, and ultimately that is what did them in. This group has added a solid baseline of talent–Larry Ogunjobi, Corey Coleman, Shon Coleman, Joe Schobert, Jabrill Peppers, Derrick Kindred to name a few–but they haven’t yet landed an impactful player. Myles Garrett and David Njoku can be those guys, but they aren’t there yet. This front office nailed the offensive and defensive lines, but it failed the quarterback and wide receiver position. There is a balance to all of this, but you can’t win one game in two years and expect to be above reprimand.

The Sashi Brown topic will be debated for sometime, but those who understand will see the good and the bad. The Browns missed on some free agents, but they also hit one some as well. They missed on some draft picks, and hit on some in the department too. The problem with this current group revolves around those key names missed. The hope here is that John Dorsey can take the extremely well set table and core, and maximize on the opportunity he has in front of him in a key off-season to add those big names to key positions. It will not be an easy task for an impatient fan base.

The Head Coach

Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson walks off the field after a loss to the Green Bay Packers in an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)

The balance in blame with Hue Jackson is hard to find. There is no denying he is dealing with a roster defunct of the necessary top end talent, but there is also no denying he is doing this group few favors. The Browns roster is not where it needs to be, and sure this may be subjective, but the Browns are not any less talented than the Jets, Broncos, Texans or Titans. There could be some wiggle room there, but the Browns are close enough to those teams from a talent standpoint. The fact the Browns have won just one game in two years is indicative of a failure from the coaching end of the situation.

Hue Jackson has yet to hire an offensive coordinator in his time in Cleveland. Jackson was a self-proclaimed quarterback whisperer – it is what earned him the job. The quarterback position has been a two year failure where we haven’t seen Jackson get the best out of the like of Josh McCown, Robert Griffin III, Code Kessler, or DeShone Kizer despite claiming he could.2 Although Jackson has been dealt a tough hand at the wide receiver position, outside of Terrell Pryor, we haven’t seen one man play above his talent level and take the next step. The biggest problem for Jackson remains play-calling and sequencing. It’s no secret Jackson prefers to throw the ball, and that has been the biggest issue. The Browns are currently in fourth in the NFL in yards per rushing attempt at 4.6 yards. So, the Browns are 17th in total rushing yards despite attempting the 25th most rushes in the league. He has a powerful run blocking offensive line, but Jackson doesn’t allow them to do what they do best. Jackson has shown a preference to allowing a rookie quarterback drive the ball downfield far too frequently.

The Browns defense has shown marked improvement against the run since Jackson hired veteran defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. The problem is that stopping the run in the modern NFL is blown out proportion. Your team just has to be average at it. They struggle covering the middle of the field in pass coverage, constantly allow teams easy conversions on third down, rank 25th in yards per play, and rank dead last in turnovers created. Williams defense is heavy blitz focused, and has become increasingly obsessed with dropping interior lineman into coverage. Jackson seems to care little about what Williams is doing on that side of the football and is rarely seen talking to him on game days. The defense has been the lesser of the three evils for this team,3 but it can’t be ignored for its failures and a total lack of communication.

Ultimately the responsibility falls on the head coach, fair or unfair. I have said this before, and I will say it again: Hue Jackson is a smart football mind. He has been around the game for many years, and found some success in certain roles. Jackson is also overwhelmed here and it is rearing itself weekly with the product on the field. His guys play hard for him, but when the play calling suffers on both sides and the playing time given to his best play makers is askew, questions have to be asked. Jackson was hired to get results, and the results have not been there. We can argue the intentions of this plan, and whether four wins in year two is that much different than zero or one, but the fact of the matter is that the Browns needed to show some improvement as a team and that has not happened. Whether you analyze the win/loss columns or dive into statistics, this group has failed from top to bottom and Hue Jackson is not above the burden of blame. His return to this team in 2018 remains the single most interesting and important story line this off season.

The Players

Sep 17, 2017; Baltimore, MD, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer (7) stands on the field after throwing a interception in the end zone during the fourth quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Baltimore Ravens defeated Cleveland Browns 24-10. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

You can’t blame everyone within this organization without holding the players accountable for the failures as well. This group is young–youngest in the NFL–so there was no denying growing pains were going to occur, but they players failures are part coaching, part performance based and more so the latter than anything else. The Browns have needed their players to perform well, and often over-perform and they haven’t seen that happen.

The disappointing parts of this group are highlighted by the most important positions. DeShone Kizer has been the key contributor to a -31 turnover ratio and is turning the ball over at a beyond alarming pace. Kizer is young, playing above his ability and readiness, but the mistakes and opportunities missed are at his fault as well. Jackson has given him simple tasks, and Kizer has been far too inconsistent with them. Isaiah Crowell had a rough start to 2017, failing to perform the simple tasks needed before turning it on this last half of the season. Ricardo Louis has failed when needed most, and whether his fault or not, he had to make the simple plays given to him.

The defense has been bright in some spots, but the failure at free safety by Jabrill Peppers overall, and the under-performance of Christian Kirksey and Jamie Collins has left many wondering what happened. The coaching is tied into this as those players have played well in the past, but we can’t ignore the simple fact that jobs aren’t being accomplished and I’m sure the players would admit that. The key players under-performing have led to this situation, and again some of that is what they’re asked to do, but there is a balance here.

The Conclusion

Peak frustration has been reached in a season when the Browns needed to show signs of improvement. Far too often the fanbase spends time ripping itself into shreds over who to blame, and why to blame them. We become blind to full responsibility and grasp for shreds of hope that the focus of our blame is the only reason. Step back and take a look at everything that has gone wrong here.

Organizations don’t win only one game in a near two year span without having multiple failures throughout multiple different levels. There have been small pieces of success here, but there have also been cataclysmic failures as well. The challenge is finding the balance between the good and bad, and sorting out the big picture for the necessary steps to rectifying it. The hope we have is that the pieces in charge of fixing things, specifically John Dorsey, has a clear understanding of where the problems can be fixed and making the necessary steps to rectify it. I hold massive amounts of hope, but I won’t hold my breathe.

I have seen this script play out far too many times.

  1. Not to mention ‘his other business.’ []
  2. Fold in Brock Osweiler and Kevin Hogan if you must. []
  3. Special teams has had a wide array of disasters each and every single week. []