For the Browns, Pat Shurmur’s Debut Just the Latest In a Long Line of Rough Starts

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

The Cleveland Browns, coming off a couple disappointing seasons, make a coaching change. The new coach comes in, the front office is happy, the players are excited about the change, the fans are fired up with all the hope and optimism that this new coaching regime is going to bring.

And then the season starts. And without fail, it starts with a spectacular display of failure. A stagnant offense that seems incapable of converting 3rd downs in the 2nd half when just one measly TD would seemingly put the game away. And then there’s the bizarre/boneheaded play that turns the game in the opponents’ favor, and just like that everything seems exactly the same as it has always been.

Meet the new Browns, same as the old Browns.

On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns have never looked quite so Cleveland Browns-like as they committed 7 penalties (not a typo, they really committed 7 penalties in the first quarter) to build a 13 point deficit. To their credit, they turned things around sparked by a nice kickoff return by Josh Cribbs and in the blink of an eye they scored consecutive TDs to grab the lead back. After scoring 17 unanswered points to hold a 17-13 lead, the game was the Browns’ to take if they wanted it.

Unfortunately, the Browns would not do another positive thing all day. The Bengals would score the go ahead TD on a play in which the Browns’ defense was still in their huddle while the Bengals’ offense was lined up and set. Cedric Benson would later add the nail when he took a 3rd and 3 carry 39 yards for a TD.

For Browns head coach Pat Shurmur, the game was a nightmare way to make a debut. The team looked unfocused, undisciplined, and just generally unprepared to play an NFL regular season game against an NFL opponent. Shurmur need not feel lonely, however, as he doesn’t sit alone. Rather, he joins the long list of Browns coaches who made less than stellar debuts for this franchise.

In 1999, nobody really knew what to expect when Chris Palmer made his debut. Palmer wasn’t Carmen Policy’s first choice to lead the newly formed Cleveland Browns rebooted franchise, but hopes among the fans were still pretty high. Palmer and his Browns made their debut at home against the hated Pittsburgh Steelers and the pregame atmosphere was just electric. And then the Browns took the field. It was 20-0 Steelers at the half and 43-0 at the end of the game.

The Steelers outgained the Browns 464 yards to 40 yards. Ty Detmer was 6-13 for 52 yards with an interception. Tim Couch relieved him and went 0-3 with a pick. Terry Kirby carried the ball 5 times for 10 yards. In all, the Browns had 9 rushes to the Steelers’ 57. The Browns attempted 16 passes to the Steelers’ 32. In all, the Steelers had 89 offensive plays to the Browns’ 25. Fans wouldn’t know it at the time, but this game would serve as an ominous piece of foreshadowing for what the future had in store. Chris Palmer would win a total of 5 games in his 2 years at the head of the Browns.

Next up was Butch Davis in 2001. Butch Davis was one of the rising stars of the coaching world after his success in rebuilding the Miami Hurricanes’ program. The hope was that he would do the same to the Cleveland Browns franchise. So it was with a renewed spirit of hope and enthusiasm that the Browns took the field against the Seattle Seahawks, coached by none other than Mike Holmgren.

In a defensive battle of field goals, the Browns fell to the Seahawks 9-6 when Rian Lindell booted a 52 yard field goal with 3 seconds left in the game. The Browns had a 1st and goal from the 7 late in that game trailing 6-3. Naturally, the Browns failed to convert the go ahead touchdown. Instead, they settled for a tying FG with just over 2 minutes left. On the ensuing kickoff, the Browns gave up a 49 yard return into Browns’ territory to set up the losing FG.

In 2005, it was Romeo Crennel’s turn to make his debut. The Browns welcomed the Cincinnati Bengals into town for this debut and ultimately fell to the rejuvenated Bengals 26-16. Carson Palmer completed 76% of his passes for 280 yards and Rudi Johnson carved up 126 yards on the ground.

Meanwhile, the Browns had 2 (two) TDs called back by penalties. Trent Dilfer made his debut for the Browns and early in the game he threw a ball that hit the ref in the head and deflected to Browns’ center Jeff Faine who caught the ball and was penalized for illegal TD (sound kind of familiar?). This was the Bengals’ first opening game win in 4 years and their first opener win on the road since 1995 (sound even more familiar?).

Which brings us to Eric Mangini’s debut in 2009. Again making a debut at home, the Browns faced the Minnesota Vikings and new (old) QB Brett Favre. Favre actually played for Mangini in New York the previous season and many feel that it was Favre’s fault the coach was fired from the Jets. The Browns actually led 13-10 at halftime before giving up 14  unanswered points in the 3rd quarter and ultimately losing 34-20 in a game that wasn’t as close as it sounds.

The Browns mostly kept Favre in check, but Adrian Peterson exploded in the 2nd half. He ended up with 180 yards rushing and 3 TDs. The Browns, meanwhile were completely inept on offense. They committed 8 penalties as a team and turned the ball over twice. Josh Cribb’s punt return for a TD in the 2nd quarter was the team’s only TD until a garbage time TD with 28 seconds left in the game with the outcome already secured.

So really, Pat Shurmur’s debut in Cleveland really shouldn’t be too surprising. This is what happens in Cleveland. But somehow it is surprising. It’s surprising that no matter what this franchise does, the results are the same.

We’ve seen changes in Presidents, GMs, coaches, coordinators, personnel, players. You name it, the Browns have tried changing it. Yet the team somehow always looks exactly the same and makes the same kind of mistakes.

Yet Shurmur’s debut really might be the worst one yet. Sure, the Browns have always made mistakes, but it’s been a long time since we’ve seen the Browns look so un-coached. Perhaps not since late in Romeo Crennel’s tenure when the team had tuned him out. But this is a debut. This is when the players are supposed to be on board. But there was no discipline and no focus to be found in this game.

After the game, Shurmur was quick to share his frustration with the way the team played. He said they would make no excuses for this display, before giving an excuse for the defense being asleep on the game winning TD.

He might have a point. Perhaps the Bengals did do an illegal quick snap. But even so, the moment anyone saw the Bengals offense lined up and set, with the Browns defense still in their huddle, a time out should have been called. Whether it be Coach Shurmur or defensive coordinator Dick Jauron (a former head coach himself), someone needs to have the awareness to see what is happening and get a time out called.

Never the less, as disheartening as the game was, and as many mental errors as there were, it’s still just game one. Game one of the season and game one in Pat Shurmur’s head coaching career. The team looked and played like a team with a rookie head coach. If this is a one game thing, it will be acceptable. If the team, and most importantly, the head coach, can learn from their mistakes and correct them, it will be acceptable. If team morale can survive this and they can channel it into positive energy for the upcoming game against the Colts, the season can still move on.

But if the team comes out and plays like this again against the Colts, a team coming off an embarrassment of their own, then who knows what will happen to this season. Any coach has to go through growing pains. No coach can become an experienced coach without first being a rookie. This is now Pat Shurmur’s test. Can he rise to the challenge and get this team playing at a level most think them capable of? Or will this be yet another 4-5 win season where everything happens exactly like it always has? It will be interesting to see how Pat Shurmur deals with his first taste of real adversity. How the Browns rebound will tell us a lot about this team and about this season.

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Photo Credit: (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

  • Right Side

    I think it’s time to find someone else to call the plays. For a first time head coach, he’s got too much on his game-day plate.

  • Clown Baby

    I knew it was going to be a long day when we were making Dalton look like Ginger Manning. Defenses around the league are going to start simply going one-on-one with the Browns receivers and putting everyone else at the line of scrimmage. McCoy can’t see over the line to make throws and the receivers are too terrible to get separation in the event he has a passing lane. I understood trading down and not taking Jones in the draft this year, but a legitimate NFL, playmaking receiver must be drafted next year.

  • -bobby-

    Game 1 no reason to make drastic coaching changes, let get real here. As to the go-ahead TD play, could Shurmer not challenge it or talk to the officials about the quick-snap? I mean if Lewis can challenge if a pass was tipped for a PI, then shouldnt Shurmer be able to see if they made a switch and therefore not allow the ball to be snapped resulting in an unsportsmanlike?

  • stin4u

    @2 – Totally agree with you there. There are going to be some really good ones too with Floyd, Blackmon, and Alshon Jeffery. Hopefully they’ll come away with one of them.

  • Andrew Koestel

    Don’t be dumb fans. It’s one game. If they line up for that play there is no reason we don’t win the game. At least we know that won’t happen again this year, right? Well, hopefully…

  • mike

    on the positive side, the browns MIGHT be the most consistent team in the NFL over the past decade. consistently disappointing counts for something, right?? anyone??

  • Harv 21

    couple of thoughts:

    – agree with Coach Marty: playcalling is overrated. Looked to me Bengals were very aware of Hillis, but when Colt passed they had a rookie DL (#96?) and others just crushing the pocket. Was it three times in the first quarter our o-line forgot the snap count between the huddle and snap? Bad performance there.

    – Meanwhile, early on we were hardly pressuring and certainly not confusing their rook QB. Later we gave up critical chunks against a back up and Benson. Yes, DQ Jackson runs well and tackles guys when he doesn’t have to shed blocks much as he did 3 years ago but, like then, we are still without a playmaker at linebacker to stop the nonsense, to read what’s going on, draw a bead and blow it up. A guy the opposing OC and QB must account for. Haven’t had that guy since Jamir Miller.

    – Shurmer may turn out to be a great young HC who needs a reasonable learning curve. Our impatience does not make that less necessary or make him the wrong guy to be here. On the other hand, it’s worth starting to monitor any trends which indicate a lack of team discipline. Would hate to think we replaced a guy who couldn’t see the forest for the trees with a guy who doesn’t know from trees at all.

  • stin4u

    Well put Harv.

  • mgbode

    @3 – let’s not blame the refs for our defense being caught napping. I know the coaches alluded to it in the postgame, but it’s bunk.

    the rule states that the ref needs to allow the defense time to get new players on the field when the offense makes a personnel switch. the defense players were on the field, the problem was they were waiting on a playcall from the coaches and did not recognize that they should just lineup in a base-formation and not worry about a specific call because of the quick-snap.

    that is basic football-101 and the coaches and players need to accept full responsibility for their screw-up. nothing on the refs for that one.

    even in peewee football the refs do not ask the defense if they are ready before releasing the ball for the offense to snap (full disclosure: I do play in a pickup flag football league where the offense does ask the defense before the snap, but we’re a bunch of out of shape old guys)

  • mgbode

    @Harv – I agree. Especially about the play-making LB.

    With Atlanta’s pick, I truly hope we are able to pickup whatever LB drops to that spot (alot of good ones could be coming out like Burfict and Teo)

  • Brendon

    @10 – I’d like to see if we could somehow nab Blackmon and Burfict in the 1st round.

  • MallaLubba

    It’s wrong that I said stop after the second comma, right? …the first line? …the first paragraph? Hmmmm.

  • mgbode

    @Brendon – I fully agree with you and at the same time am a little sad we are talking about the 2012 draft after week 1 :)

  • Brendon

    @mgbode – I agree. There is a lot of football left to be played. But you know that we are always looking to next season.

  • Wheel

    The loss goes squarely on Shurmur/Holmgren. With the lockout and a new offense, why did they not take advantage of the final exhibition game to get the offense more reps? I know there is an injury risk, but it was extremely poor judgment on their part to deem the offense ready to start the regular season.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com BAJ22

    The Bengals were able to dominate the left side – isn’t that Jabal Sheard’s side? I noticed the Browns had to bring Ward all the way up to the line of scrimmage to help stop it. That, my friends, isn’t good.

    The other side looked pretty solid, though, until the late TD run. And the D-line did get some pressure on their QB’s.

    Hayden played an outstanding game! If he continues to play like that, he’ll be invited to the 2012 pro-bowl.

    Most people here could have told the Brown’s FO that they needed help on the O-line this year. Pashos hasn’t been healthy in years. Why couldn’t they see it and get some help there? The O-line had a very bad game, and Colt McCoy seemed to be getting pounded back there. You gotta protect your best players and right now Colt has a chance to be pretty good…but not if you let him get hit over and over like that. That kind of beating takes a toll on a person. Late in the game Colt dumped a pass off to Mack (the center)! Bet he’s never done that before!

    Total blunder on the FO, and another QB is at risk of being put out of the game like Tim Couch was. I bet if Heckert was forced to play a few snaps back there he’d have gotten some better players on the line a few weeks ago! Probably too late now.