Red Right 88

Life as a Cleveland Sports Fan

Browns returning to where it all started falling apart

The Cleveland Browns return to Dallas on Sunday to take on the Cowboys for the first time on the road since Week 2 of the 2004 NFL season.

And it was that day that, in a lot of ways, sent the Browns into a downward spiral that they are still trying to recover from.

After making a surprise playoff appearance after the 2002 season (and we all know how that ended), the Browns crashed back to reality in 2003, finishing at 5-11. So coach Butch Davis brought in three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia to run an offense in 2004 that would be bolstered by No. 1 draft pick Kellen Winslow.

There was  a major flaw in the plan, however:  Garcia was successful strictly in the West Coast offense and, for reasons known only to Davis, the Browns didn’t let Garcia on the field much in the preseason and didn’t put in an offense to fit his talents (sound familiar, Browns fans?) Because, after all, when you sign an All-Pro quarterback, why not work to make him successful?

Things looked promising as the Browns won the opener, 20-3, over Baltimore (to this day the only Browns opening day win since returning in 1999).

But then came the trip to Dallas.

The Browns would lose, 19-12, as Garcia posted a 0.0 quarterback rating. Making matters worse, Winslow broke his leg in a pileup when the Browns executed a successful onside kick near the end of the game. The injury would put Winslow out for the rest of the year.

As for Garcia, he was never comfortable with Davis or the Browns and it only took five games before things started to fall apart.

As for the Browns, they would be 3-8 when Davis would quit after having a panic attack before a late-November game against Cincinnati. Terry Robiskie took over as interim coach and “guided” the Browns to a 1-4 record (still think interim coaches are the way to go, Browns fans?)

The following season, not only would Davis be gone (replaced by Romeo Crennel), but so would Garcia (released after playing in just 10 games for Cleveland) and Winslow, lost for a second year thanks to a motorcycle accident in the off-season.

Davis also left a vacancy in the front office, filled by Phil Savage and his questionable draft picks and bad free agent signings.

Crennel lasted four seasons before giving way to Eric Mangini and his 10-22 record which led to Pat Shurmur and the current state of the Browns.

And to think it all started eight years ago on the field in Dallas against the Cowboys.

Makes you wonder just what is in store for the Browns come Sunday?

***

In better, and more recent, Browns news, Pro Football Focus ranks the offensive line as the ninth best in the NFL – up one spot from the previous week even though the Browns were on a bye last weekend.

The Browns are ranked fifth in pass blocking, 13th in run blocking and 19th in penalties allowed.

That’s good news as the Browns will have to deal with DeMarcus Ware (9.5 sacks) and a Dallas defense that is ranked fourth in the NFL.

“The guy does everything great,” left tackle Joe Thomas said. “You’d be hard pressed to find a better outside linebacker in the NFL in the last 15-plus years. He stops the run (and) he’s a fantastic pass rusher. I don’t know what his sack numbers are since he’s been in the league, but I don’t know if anybody has had more. I’m sure he’s right at the top and when you average one sack a game it’s pretty impressive. Everything he does is phenomenal. He’s the type of guy that you try to keep quiet, but you can’t shut him down no matter what you do for a whole game.”

Quarterback Brandon Weeden also credits the offensive line for the fact that he has only been sacked 14 times this season.

The majority of that goes to those guys (offensive line),” Weeden said. “Those guys are doing a great job of keeping me off the ground. We’re getting the ball out quick, but I think it all starts with those guys up front. Tight ends blocking and backs doing their part. My offensive line has played outstanding all year. I think Mitch (Schwartz) has come in and played great. He has gotten better every single game. “

***

Defensively, the Browns may have defensive tackles Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin on the field together for the first time this season.

“Hopefully things play out like we think, we’ll have our two starting defensive tackles from last year back,” Shurmur said. “When you have more healthy guys in the defensive line and guys that you feel like can play, that allows you to, obviously, get more good snaps because you can rotate them all in there.”

The return of Taylor and Rubin may mean we’ll see Billy Winn at defensive end at times. If nothing else, a wall of Winn (295 pounds), Taylor (335) and Rubin (330) should at least slow down opposing running backs a bit.

***

Finally, Shurmur stated the obvious on Wednesday, saying the Browns need to avoid turnovers to have a chance to win. But it was his attitude about Weeden’s interceptions that grates on us.

“Don’t throw interceptions. Done, end of story. I want to be right to the point,” Shurmur said. “You have to decide when it’s important to try to be aggressive with a throw and then it’s also important to then of course, be smart with the football. I’ve looked at all those interceptions and there are times where he could have made better decisions. You don’t want to play anxious football, but you also have to be smart.”

Shurmur conveniently overlooked the role he and offensive coordinator Brad Childress have played in the Browns’ offensive woes this season, as well as the fact that prior to the last Baltimore game, Weeden had thrown only one interception in the previous three games.

For his part, Weeden sounds like he knows that interceptions are bad.

That’s kind of been my priority since I played pee-wee football,” he said. “We never want to throw interceptions. My aggressive manor and mindset sometimes gets me in trouble, and you guys know that. I’m not going to take that away from myself. I agree, I have to take care of the football. I have to cut down on them. I think guys that are aggressive like that, sometimes that’s one category they unfortunately may have a couple more than they’d like. It’s not good, but we’re just being aggressive. Sometimes, making that aggressive throw, sometimes it catapults you and gets you momentum. You get a big throw and kind of spark a drive or something.”

(Photo by The Associated Press)

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