Pat Shurmur was given an inch and took a mile. Toting two wins in his last three games, and a roster full of players who opted to work rather than rest while heading into a divisional game, this was Pat’s chance. Backed by a tailwind rooted in improved fan morale and a fiery man who received his first game ball as majority owner, those who were mentally packing up the coach’s belongings just three weeks earlier stopped, put down their tape and crumpled up newspaper, and stood by to see if, by some chance, the head coach finally figured it out — if he took a season-and-a-half of embarrassment, studied and learned from prior mistakes, and became a coach who could actually win football games. In-game management, on-feet thinking and proactive decision-making all playing key roles.
And then Sunday happened.
What should have been an on-field chess match punctuated by a Cleveland Browns defense that had its best second-half of play over the course of the entire season coupled with a running back who had amassed yet another 100-yard game1 was one that was marred with communication issues and reactive late-game decisions.
The chief responsibility of an NFL head coach in a playing dealt cards-type of way, is to ensure that he puts his players in the best possible place that will in turn give them the best chance to win — this can be drilled down to a play-by-play basis just as much as it can in the big picture.
If we can forget, just for a moment, that Shurmur was willing to throw first-half timeouts into the lakefront wind, seemingly having the inability to get a play relayed to his quarterback within the time allotted by the play clock. Let’s also ignore, for another moment, that Shurmur decided to go for it on 4th-and-2 with four minutes — and two timeouts — remaining, turning into “aggressive Pat” with the ball deep in his own territory.
Instead, we can focus on the multiple botched opportunities, including the bound-to-be-dissected 4th-and-2, wherein Shurmur put the entire weight of focus on a rookie quarterback who was obviously struggling. Refusing to tweak short-yardage plays to provide Trent Richardson with a better opportunity for success, Shurmur decided to throw the ball on the first two 3rd-and-1s — both of which were failed attempts. Rather than creating space for Richardson to run wild in the red zone, Shurmur opted for three- and five-step drops that ultimately resulted in check-down passes and Phil Dawson field goals. It’s not just fourth downs; even the 3rd-and-long plays are not thrown beyond the sticks.
And illegal formation penalties? Twelve men on the field((Though the penalty was declined as the Ravens still gained the necessary yardage))? Purely on the coach. But the only item in whichShurmur was willing to take even the most remote amount of blame: the first-half timeouts.
As our own Craig pointed out, Shurmur can blame the loss on poor execution, he can point the fingers at a few questionable penalties which shaped the second half, but as he stands at his post-game podium, sucking in on his bottom lip while being battered with a litany of “what the hell were you thinking here?” questions, rather than focusing on the holes in the roster or the missed crossing routes, Shurmur needs to find a mirror.
Week after week, Shurmur continues to display a lack of growth a head coach. Sure, the Cleveland Browns have not fallen victim to a quick snap. To this point, we have not seen a handoff to a player playing the fullback position for the first time in his career. And we haven’t had field-goal snaps three-hop their way to Reggie Hodges. But when it comes to putting his team in the best position to win winnable contests, when it comes to in-game decisions that are not based on headlines and sound bites from two weeks earlier, and — most importantly — when it comes to taking advantage of the morale and optimism afforded to him by the last two weeks, Shurmur, once again, regressed mightily and squandered every ounce of postive thought he had in his back pocket.
“What do you mean?” Shurmur asked when questioned on his play-calling. “It’ll be a fun thing for everyone to talk about this week, just when we lost the game [in Indianapolis] and I didn’t go for it. I don’t know what you’re talking about, my nature? I don’t know you that well. You probably don’t me that well. You know what, in both situations, the decision didn’t lead us to a victory, did it? So that’s why we talk about it. Had we converted it and we moved forward, then it would’ve been talked about on what a gutsy move it was. Right? That’s all. I think it’s fair. And I’ll join into it.”
A “fun thing to talk about,” as if that’s the goal of fans and those covering the team for a living. As ESPN Cleveland’s Bruce Hooley put best following the game, we write about the planes that crash. The fact that quarterback Brandon Weeden would not even comment on the communication issues that littered the contest speaks volumes — how can the rookie trust the message being delivered when the means are substandard? Ten weeks in to the season and it’s akin to hiring a cross-eyed carpenter to build your home. Not having a play ready to call upon the prior play’s completion is merely unacceptable at any level of football, let alone the NFL.
Even “Red Right 88,” a play that will forever live in Cleveland Browns lore, was called before that now-infamous second down. Not wanting to risk attempting a Don Cocroft field goal into the wind, despite being down being down two points, Sam Rutilgiano went into that four-down set knowing that he would run the ball on first and third down as the clock continued to expire. However, given the elements that come along with a January in Cleveland, the Browns’ head coach knew he had to take a shot at the end zone — having a mis-match with the 6-foot-4-inch Dave Logan on an otherwise smaller defensive back. The end result of the play is well documented, but it was a proactive decision aimed at putting the Cleveland Browns in the best position to win; the right play, poorly executed.
Despite that call, Rutigliano won the NFL’s Coach of the Year award and was afforded the chance to coach four more seasons, backed by the goodwill afforded to him in the Kardiac Kids era. His players played hard as well as smart, representing the man who paced the sidelines while they mowed through the AFC. The 2012 Cleveland Browns undoubtedly play hard — the 28th-ranked run defense swarmed Baltimore’s Ray Rice through the entire second half, allowing one scoring drive through 30 minutes of play. But to say they play smart would be the biggest reach yet; no level of fandom can rightfully say that this Cleveland Browns team limits its own mistakes.
And that, right there, is a product of the man calling the plays. That, right there, will be the reason Pat Shurmur will not be the head coach of the Cleveland Browns come 2013.
- The last Cleveland Brown to rush for 100 yards in back-to-back games was Peyton Hillis in 2010. He was also the first rookie since 1998 to rush for over 100 yards against the Baltimore Ravens [↩]