1. The Pat Shurmur era is now 106 quarters old and of those quarters, some moments of positive momentum have occurred. Certainly, the first half the Browns turned in again against the Cowboys would qualify. However, in typical Shurmur-era Browns’ fashion, putting together more than two consecutive solid quarters of football has proven elusive. Even during the sporadic wins of the past season and a half, Shurmur’s Browns have failed to deliver the kind of consistency needed of average teams – let alone the ones that win.
2. And while Shurmur’s play calling and the “streamlined” approach looked smoother for much of Sunday’s game, it’s telling that the Browns’ passing game is not designed to go through Trent Richardson, but usually does. Yet again, let me throw out the question – can you imagine this 2012 offense without Richardson?
3. But in the interest of fairness, the continued analysis of Shurmur’s qualifications as a Head Coach have been pretty much exhausted at this point. 24 NFL games has proven Shurmur is not much of a game manager, an inconsistent offensive play caller and perhaps the worst communicator in Browns’ history. For an embattled Head Coach to call a ridiculous amount of passing plays for his rookie quarterback to execute, then blame his rookie quarterback for throwing too many interceptions is inexcusable.
4. Yet, in Shurmur’s defense, he finally put his rookie quarterback into better positions in the first half against the Cowboys. However, Weeden’s second-half slump coincided with Shurmur’s characteristic second half slump of creative calls. Yet, in Weeden’s defense, the otherwise tough veteran rookie regrouped and again put the Browns into a position to win. In the first half, Weeden was able to spread the ball around and gave young wide receivers Greg Little and Josh Gordon some chances to make plays. When the Cowboys’ defense adjusted, Weeden was then able to make second-level connections to Richardson and Ben Watson. Unfortunately, the offensive play calls couldn’t overcome the accelerated pace of the second half.
5. But perhaps the bigger issue involves Shurmur’s inability or unwillingness to make second half adjustments when the Cowboys were able to put front seven pressure on Weeden. The second half was striking in that Jason Garrett – by most accounts a very average NFL Head Coach – changed up the Cowboys’ offense to allow for quicker reads and passes from a variety of multiple receiver looks. The change caught the Browns’ defense unaware and put the Cowboys back in the game. However, on the Browns’ side, these developments didn’t occur, Weeden was pressured and the offense sloughed its way through the half.
6. All of this leads to the bigger question moving forward – what is the ceiling for Shurmur as a Head Coach? If it’s consistent play calling and the occasional full four-quarter game, then these Browns could inch towards a .500 record, with an occasional crack at the playoffs possible. And the even bigger question – is it worth another season or two of Shurmur to realize this? Should there be such an on the job training for a Head Coach? Again, Shurmur was badly outcoached by Garrett – who is a likely candidate to be out of a job in 2013. Shurmur has also been outcoached by Andy Reid and Chan Gailey – two more coaches who will likely be fired by season’s end.
7. Again, twelve penalties – even for such a young team – is a reflection of the Head Coach and the coaching staff.
8. But as for the overall effort of this team, what (again) gets lost in another loss is the energetic effort of a hard-working defense. It’s obvious that the 2012 version of the Browns’ defense is a quicker and at times, more dynamic unit. The reunion of Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin obviously was an upgrade over the earlier rookie units – and no doubt, the pass rush opportunities were improved thanks to the added beef inside.
9. And while much will be said about Sheldon Brown or even Joe Haden’s oblique injury, the efforts given by the likes of Eric Hagg and Johnson Bademosi show the real worth of this team – with all of its raw, erratic essence – the kind that always makes this team worth watching. But yet again, the disconnect between young players, coaching and discipline is the kind of soul-crushing nature that defines this team.
10. Finally, there could be an indirect link between the previous thoughts and the (non) actions of Mike Holmgren. The thought of Holmgren on the field before the game, glad handing with Jerry Jones and patting Jason Garrett on the back is perhaps the most repulsive moment of the Browns’ expansion era. The ex-coach brought in to be the “serious, credible leader” desired by Randy Lerner and the ex-Team President who has already been dismissed by Jimmy Haslam is now using his Browns’ post to publicly plot his next move – a disgusting display for a man who once cited sharing a coaching fraternity with Eric Mangini before dismissing him to hire his former defensive coordinator’s nephew.
It’s a stretch – but the lingering black cloud that was Lerner is slowly being lifted. Yet the remnants of Lerner remain in Holmgren’s largesse.
The hope is that soon the entirety of this cloud will be lifted.