Cleveland Browns Coach Romeo Crennel has no answers for his team's woeful performances but he does have jokes. In the wake of Cleveland's 51-45 win over Cincinnati on September 15, someone asked Crennel about the opportunity the Browns now had to win two games in a row by beating the woeful Oakland Raiders, losers of 11 straight games dating to last season. Cleveland has not posted back to back wins since October 2003, so Crennel quipped, "Just winning a game in Cleveland has been a challenge." Yeah, Crennel will be here all week and he's a laugh a minute. Unfortunately, the joke is on anyone who believes that the Browns can be a winning team while he is the coach; right now, it looks like reaching an 8-8 record during his tenure is a long shot.
On Sunday, Cleveland lost 26-24 to an Oakland team that had not only lost the aforementioned 11 in a row but had been 15-51 in its previous 66 games. Crennel and Charlie Weis were supposedly the irreplaceable defensive and offensive gurus respectively for Bill Belichick's New England Patriots but New England is rolling along just fine without them. Meanwhile, to quote a classic Mike Lupica line, "it is time for the guru to start 'guruing.'" Crennel has orchestrated a Browns defense that is perennially bad--particularly against the run--and is getting progressively worse under his stewardship: the Browns allowed 18.8 ppg in 2005, 22.3 ppg in 2006 and are giving up a league-worst 35 ppg in three games this year. The normally punchless Raiders offense had numerous big plays against the Browns, including passes of 41, 39, 27, 24 and 20 yards and runs of 20, 21 and 25 yards. The Browns are giving up 430.7 yards per game, including 176.3 yards rushing, ranking 31st (out of 32 teams) in the league in both categories. The pass defense has been shredded for an NFL-worst 11 touchdown passes. My contention is that the Browns' main problem is a lack of discipline and focus. Crennel agrees: "We have some guys who aren't quite disciplined enough to get aligned where they need to be aligned, to put themselves in position to stop the run." What he did not add is that when a team is not disciplined and focused that is a direct reflection on the coaching staff.
Yes, the Browns could have won the game by making a last second field goal--but that does not change the fact that the defense played terribly and that the Raiders are not a very good team. While everyone debates the late game timeout/do-over situation, look at what happened on the last play: the Browns allowed a rusher who came straight up the middle to block the kick. The Browns' Phil Dawson is one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history and has been a money performer on game-winning kicks throughout his career; if the attempt is not blocked he almost certainly would have made it. The cardinal rule in such situations is that you never allow a rush up the middle, because even if an edge rusher breaks free he probably will get there too late. Oakland Coach Lane Kiffin said after the game that several Raiders could have blocked the kick and Crennel did not disagree with that. This total breakdown of basic football fundamentals on a game-deciding play once again speaks to the lack of discipline and focus that characterize how Crennel's Browns play in all phases of the game.
The win over Cincinnati was exciting and it at least got rid of any concern that the Browns might not win a game before Thanksgiving--but that victory was an aberration. The Browns are a disorganized and undisciplined football team. General Manager Phil Savage has succeeded to some extent in upgrading the talent level on the roster but, as the blocked Dawson kick showed, it does not matter how good your players are if you do not have a coaching staff that places them in position to succeed. The Browns' next two games are against Baltimore and New England, meaning that Cleveland is staring at a likely 1-4 record before a matchup with Miami preceding the bye week. Rookie Brady Quinn showed some signs during the preseason that he could be the team's quarterback of the future. The real question is not so much when he will replace erratic journeyman Derek Anderson but rather when Savage will pull the plug on the Crennel regime and put a coaching staff in place that can run a disciplined and focused program that will give Quinn a realistic chance to be successful. As the botched kick versus Oakland proved, it does not matter how good an individual player is if the team is not properly coached.