Whatever the reasons for Hue Jackson’s public rumination about possibly taking over (subverting?) the Browns offense at the start of this week, it was beyond misguided.
Whether it was just ego or jealously (the offensive coordinator gets to call plays for Baker Mayfield and I don’t!) or simply the frustrated rantings of a man who has generally looked horribly overmatched by the requirements for his job, it’s just about the last thing anyone with a 3-35-1 record (and impossible .090 winning percentage) should be even thinking about doing. Then again, delegating and leading and, most of all, fostering a winning culture, haven’t exactly come naturally for him.
But strip away all of that for a minute. Forget it all.
Take out the hubris (or, Huebris, in this instance) of basically publicly calling out coordinator Todd Haley after the latest mind-numbing Browns’ defeat for a moment. Forget about what a horrible message this sends to Mayfield – who has only been a starting quarterback for about a month. Try to forget about how mystifying it is that a head coach would thrust a rookie QB into a vortex like this, already forced to support or impugn his play caller in a faux controversy, just because Jackson couldn’t bite his tongue after a game.
Take out any emotion, and the human element, entirely. Let’s even forget about the fact that when Jackson was actually calling the plays and acting as head coach, the Browns offense was the worst in the NFL and they literally could not win a football game. Forget all of that. Let’s just consider the facts as to whether or not one could even rationally attack the offensive play calling as the primary reason for the Browns’ 2-4-1 record, and 26-23 loss on Sunday at Tampa Bay. Could any qualified, reasonable NFL head coach have truly made that the crux of what quickly morphed into a bizarre post-game rant, with veiled threat after veiled threat by Jackson, that he then attempted to walk-back when he met the press again on Monday afternoon.
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The Browns are currently 19th in the NFL in offensive points scored, which isn’t great, but is a massive improvement from a year ago (they are five points behind the defending Super Bowl champions, by comparison). Cleveland is averaging 21 points a game on offense, compared to 14 per game a year ago under Jackson (227 offensive points, worst in NFL). Considering the Browns have also traded their best outside receiver already in-season (Josh Gordon) as well as their starting running back (Carlos Hyde) and made a quarterback change on the fly, was anyone expecting this would be much more than an average offense in terms of yards or points at this stage of the game?
Mayfield’s development should be the single-biggest thing championed in the entire organization, and why anyone would even think to thrust chaos and uncertainty and confusion into the quarterback or offensive staff or chain of command right now is truly mystifying. Mayfield has kept the team in every game but one (a blowout loss to the Chargers), he rises to the occasion when trailing late in games and, if you recall, Jackson didn’t allow him to take any first-string reps all summer for the most part, so he is literally making up for lost time.
It’s novel that Jackson wants to see more fast starts from his offense, and more first-quarter scoring, but with a novice quarterback and a running back making his first-ever start on Sunday, on the road no less, and with no proven receiver or tight end on the roster besides Jarvis Landry, was he really expecting Air Coryell? And, somewhere in that tortured mind of his, after Mayfield leads a comeback – again, for the record, on the road – from a 16-2 deficit and, frankly, is in line to likely win the game if not for an unfortunate Jabrill Peppers fumble in overtime, this is the messaging that Jackson comes up with in his post-game press conference? That’s weaksauce. It’s unprofessional. It’s beyond unnecessary.
Seems to me a large part of the impact of a play caller comes during the game, adjusting to game situations and the defense and what is working and what is not. Seems to me, if anything, on a day when Antonio Calloway once again looked like the super-raw and at times overwhelmed rookie receiver that he is, and with Chubb just learning to play on every down (or close to it) and with terribly inconsistent young tight end David Njoku the only potentially viable option beyond Landry in the passing offense, Haley’s unit still managed to turn the game completely around.
That’s, frankly, what coaching is, is it not?
The Browns come out of the half and go touchdown, punt, touchdown and then marched to the 1 yard-line and Jackson opted to go for it (they just traded their goal-line back midweek) and they got stuffed. Could have taken the field goal there, Hue, and you end up winning the game. Can’t blame your coordinator for that. And then the Browns went on to score the game-tying touchdown, anyway, to send it into overtime. Not bad. After going 1-for-8 on third down in the first half and mustering just 79 yards, the Browns went .500 on third down and amassed 233 yards in the second half.
I would think the coach might be enthused by the fact that Mayfield went 13-for-18 for 153 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the second half, a passer rating of 134.7, that doesn’t include a huge 35-yard run as well. I’d think that, after being stuffed on the ground in the first half, the fact that the staff made some tweaks and Chubb went on to run 10 times for 56 yards in the second half (8 for 24 in the first), would be seen as progress. Njoku going from looking like another spectator in the first half to catching four balls for 51 yards and a huge touchdown in the second half might be seen as something more worth talking about than opining on whether or not we need more Huebris in the offense.
Could Jackson, in all of his infinite wisdom and coaching prowess, have found a way to get more than six catches for 74 yards and a touchdown out of Landry in the second half, when he was literally the only true threat on the offense at any skill position? Because that’s what Haley got. And let’s not forget that Jackson managed to cull almost nothing out of Njoku and Duke Johnson all of last season. And he systematically ignored them while foisting far too much on the plate of patently overmatched rookie QB DeShone Kizer, who was never ready for a single start, much less than a season’s worth of them. This is the guy who needs to be calling plays again on top of everything else? Really?
The folks back in Cleveland were supposed to sit at the dinner table on Sunday night, after watching yet another close game slip away on Jackson’s watch, and watch his ridiculous press conference antics and think: Damn, if only the guy who had to jump in Lake Erie because he managed to get worse after a 1-15 season had been micro-managing every single facet of the game today we would have won on the road for the first time since 2015? As if Jackson hasn’t already had a stunningly long and fruitless stint to show exactly what he could do as the czar of all things quarterback and play calling and offense.
It takes a certain vanity to even infer as much. It speaks to just how logic-defying it is that the Haslams have empowered Jackson this long. It reveals a scary lack of foresight and self-awareness. It makes you wonder how far adrift this head coach truly is from reality. And it has to make it crystal clear to general manager John Dorsey, who was hired with the stipulation that Jackson returns for 2018, precisely what he must do in 2019, beginning with a coaching search.
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