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With Big$ out completing his community service this week, K-Dubs, the Soldier responds to the Browns call for the Dawg Pound to "Keep Calm and Bark On."
After its fairly stunning silence during a 0-10 start, the Browns front office held a State-of-the-Team address this week. The team’s executive vice president Sashi Brown met with the beat writers, trying to reassure them that this disappointing season, which has reached lows previously unseen in franchise history, is simply a part of “The Process.” Sashi told us the culture truly is changing in Berea and that soon the world will witness the resurrection of the Browns. Coach Hue Jackson echoed that sentiment this week, admonishing other teams to get their licks in now, because the Browns are going to be Kings of North soon. What else could they say? Sure, nobody expected to be winless, yada yada, but evolution is afoot. It was all monotone platitudes, and while I listened, I recalled Dana Carvey’s impression of President George H.W. Bush: “Stay the course. A thousand points of light. Stay the course.”
Here is a response to this banality from a proud member of the Dawg Pound: Excuse my doubt, but what the hell am I missing?! Of course there was going to be a change of culture from last year. The past few seasons the front office and coaching staff did not [or could not] work together. The result was a team that had a roster with players that did not fit the coach’s system.
Owner Jimmy Haslem responded by creating a completely new structure of governance and placing a focus on finding value players rather than high-priced free agents. No doubt these changes would create a new culture, but the time has long passed to show us what this different and more-cohesive vision means on the field. The defense ranks 31st in yards and points per game and 23rd in sacks. The team has a minus-5 turnover margin, and the offense has an average time-of-possession that is 6:37 minutes less than opponents. How is that for analytics?
When the season started, I was optimistic that we would begin to see some flashes of forthcoming glory for the new, new Browns, even though I was fairly certain that a 5-win season would be a stretch. My outlook persisted after some early-year losses in which the team was generally competitive but came up short in tight games. Things just seem to have gotten worse lately, though. In the second half against the Cowboys two weeks ago, the offense gained just 33 yards in a deflating defeat. Then, last week against the Ravens, they had to call a timeout before the very first play of the game because there were 12 defenders on the field. On the first play! The D then forced a punt and the two returners, Duke Johnson and Joe Haden, ran into each other and nearly fumbled the ball.
When you see things like this it is so hard to maintain hope. Where is this change? To quote recent campaign ads, we're getting "more of the same." I will keep carrying the torch for now, but patience is getting low. So when the Browns kick off at home this Sunday against the Steelers, I will be watching and cheering (and drinking Four String Brewing’s Skeleton Red Rye IPA). What else can I say?
So what are the keys to victory this week?:
The Browns are going to be playing two opponents on Sunday, Pittsburgh and the weather. The forecast for kickoff is 35 degrees with a chance of rain and flurries, and wind gusts up to 50 mph! This may cause havoc for Browns QB Cody Kessler, whose arm is not the strongest. Coach Jackson pulled Kessler out against the Ravens because he was not pushing the ball down field, but in this wind, I imagine keeping routes short may serve the team better. Cleveland may have a better chance to get the ground game going against the Steelers, too, because DE and former Buckeye standout Cam Heyward is out with a torn pectoral muscle. The offense needs to get Isaiah Crowell running downhill to eat up some clock and keep the ball away from Ben Roethlisberger. The harsh winds will also likely cause problems in the kicking game, so field position will be at a premium this week.
Speaking of Big Ben, he did miss a game last month with a torn meniscus, and hopefully that injury, coupled with the harsh lakefront weather, will limit his mobility this week. He is not known as a runner obviously, as he resembles a competitive eater more than he does a track star, but he is one of the all-time greats at avoiding sacks and keeping plays alive by scrambling. If the Browns really want to exhibit a change in culture, getting some sacks and putting opponents in 3rd-and-long situations more often would certainly help. Recently acquired OLB Jamie Collins will have another week of practice in this system under his belt, too, and he is a playmaker that should help the Browns improve its 3rd-down conversion rate, which is 50 percent for the year.
Of course, there is another force of nature at play in all-world wideout Antonio Brown. Over the years, he has had huge games against Haden, much like he has against every other DB in the league. He is probably going to get his catches and yards this Sunday. Cleveland’s chances of winning are tied then to how well the team contains all the other playmakers for Pittsburgh. They need to limit yards-after-contact for RB La’Veon Bell, who is also a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield (45 rec., 360 yds.), and keep the ball away from the tight ends, which have killed the Browns this year. If they can pull it all together, a win over the hated Steelers would be a rare bright spot in The Process.