Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Browns Need a New Coach and a New Quarterback

On the cusp of making (or, to be precise, matching) NFL history by going 0-16, the Cleveland Browns fired top football executive Sashi Brown and replaced him with John Dorsey, who did not hesitate to offer a very honest public statement about Sashi Brown's performance: "I'll come straight out with it. The guys who were here before, that system, they didn't get real players."

"That system" is a not so veiled dig at the analytics-driven decisions made by Brown and his cohorts. Dorsey has a valid point about the overall player evaluation process conducted by the previous regime but--to the extent that Dorsey is providing cover for Coach Hue Jackson, who currently sports a 1-30 record with the Browns--it is important to make it very clear that while the Browns do not have a playoff caliber roster they also most emphatically do not have an 0-15 caliber roster, either.

Sports llustrated's Andy Benoit makes a detailed and compelling argument that with proper coaching the Browns would be a lot better than 0-15:
The Browns have one of the NFL’s better offensive lines. They have a quality thunder and lightning backfield with Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson. They have an athletic first-round rookie tight end, David Njoku. Their receiving corps needs help, but with second-year man Corey Coleman healthy and Josh Gordon back, it's no longer in dire straits. Defensively, the linebacking trio of Christian Kirksey, Joe Schobert and (when healthy) Jamie Collins is one of football's fastest. The defensive line is adequate and getting better, given the flashes from 2017 No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett. The secondary, a sieve in 2016 because of poor safety play, has improved after the arrivals of first-round rookie Jabrill Peppers and veteran corner Jason McCourty, as well as the progress made by 27-year-old CB Jamar Taylor. This is a roster that, frankly, should be somewhere between 4-12 and 6-10, not on the cusp of joining the winless 2008 Lions in infamy.

Cleveland's biggest problem is the players have not been put in position to succeed--most notably on offense, and specifically at quarterback. Second-round rookie DeShone Kizer has the tools to become a quality starter. He's physically capable of making 500-level throws at the deep-intermediate levels. He's tough in the pocket. He's athletic and mobile. Yes, he's raw, and his inconsistent precision accuracy is troubling (that issue rarely corrects itself). But quarterbacks with greater flaws have had successful NFL careers.
I made a similar point about Jackson's ineptitude last season:
A well coached team is disciplined and the players are always in the right position, even if the players lack the size, strength and/or speed to complete the play; the 2016 Browns are not just a bad team but they are a team that demonstrably lacks discipline and does not execute properly. CBS color commentator Solomon Wilcots repeatedly pointed out that the Browns should be double-teaming (San Diego tight end Antonio) Gates. The coach is responsible for the product on the field; if Jackson is giving the right instructions but the players are not executing then he needs to put different players on the field: the bottom line is that whatever happens on the field has either been taught by the coach or is being permitted to happen by the coach.
Hall of Fame Coach Bill Walsh, who built the San Francisco 49ers from also-rans into three-time Super Bowl champions, once explained how long it should take to build a good NFL team and how that process should work: "I am often asked how long it should take to turn an NFL franchise around. My short answer is: three years. Not every team will win the Super Bowl in its third season under a new coach (as we did in San Francisco in 1981) but it is reasonable to expect at least some signs of improvement by that time...There are reasons why some teams are able to remain competitive year after year while others never seem to get over the hump...My point is that it takes a concerted commitment from ownership, the front office, the coaching staff and the players for a team to succeed. It's the old 'a-chain-is-only-as-strong-as-its-weakest-link-theory' theory. If one of the four areas is weak, it's extremely difficult to overcome that flaw."

The Browns have been an awful team for the better part of two decades because the front office has been clueless, most of the coaches have been mediocre at best/incompetent at worst and the franchise has never prioritized the acquisition--and nurturing--of a top notch quarterback.

The Browns will likely go 0-16 this season but, with the right decision making process, they could be a playoff team in three years, provided that Dorsey (1) fires Coach Jackson and replaces him with a real NFL head coach, (2) acquires a very good/great quarterback and puts the proper structure/playmakers around that quarterback and (3) transforms the culture of the franchise from a culture that expects/accepts losing to one that demands winning results. Jackson may be a nice guy and a decent assistant coach but he has proven that he is not a championship-level coach--and the Browns should replace him with a coach who can ultimately win a championship. Likewise, as Benoit noted it is possible that Kizer could be molded into an adequate quarterback but it is unlikely that Kizer will ever be an elite quarterback. The coach-quarterback duo is essential to long-term NFL success, as proven by perennial contenders such as New England and Pittsburgh.

When Mike Ditka was hired to be the Chicago Bears' head coach, he met with the players and told them that he had some good news and some bad news: the good news was that the Bears would win a Super Bowl but the bad news was that most of the people in the room would not be with the team when they won. That is the attitude that Dorsey, his next head coach and their next starting quarterback must personify in order for the Browns to become a competitive NFL team instead of being a laughingstock.

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