You know how this works in Cleveland.
When the Browns are not winning, the whispers begin.
Check that – when the Browns lose ten consecutive games, the whispers become whines and eventually manifest as shouts.
And it's only a matter of time before the Browns' pseudo-media arm goes from headlines like this…
…and diversions such as this…
…to post-mortem reflections such as this:
After all, there are only so many Greg Little stories to be written and despite the reality that the too young Browns can "battle" teams, eventually Browns' Head Coach Pat Shurmur will become the target of future PD headlines.
In fact, this
tri bi-annual event has already begun – especially given the parallel timing of Jimmy Haslam's official takeover and the Browns' current 10-game losing streak.
And despite the PD's insistence on laying out individual players for scapegoating, the current roster is a promising collection of talent – or at least is a likable, hard working group of players. First round draft picks Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson are tough, take punishment and haven't complained about playing in an ill-fitting offensive system. Likewise, Ahtyba Rubin and D'Qwell Jackson are hustle and heart, despite being surrounded by an assortment of undrafted free agents and rookies.
Beyond some miraculous, mythological football heaven intervention, it doesn't appear that the Browns' current losing streak will reverse itself any time soon. Simply put, the Browns are very young, but their Head Coach/Offensive play caller has proven to be both inflexible in his approach and completely detached from the game – which is a dangerous combination in the NFL.
Obviously, Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator-bashing is sport in Cleveland and Shurmur's somber facial expressions make him a ridiculously easy target. However, the bigger point is that over the past 20 games, Shurmur has failed to make the kind of significant in-game changes that other coaches routinely perform. In a sense, the game unfolds far beyond the reach of Shurmur's laminated play calling sheet.
Perhaps these weaknesses are further illuminated by the Browns' constant slow starts. Rarely do the Browns start fast in either the 1st or 3rd quarters of Shurmur-coached games. Regardless of the roster's relative inexperience, this is a sign of a Head Coach who isn't much of a motivator.
And then there is Shurmur's outdated offense – which in the context of what I am about to propose is actually Shurmur's best asset.
Since there is going to be an avalanche of expectations thrust upon Haslam and because it's more than obvious that Mike Holmgren will golden parachute himself back to Seattle and the chance of an intervention from the football gods is unlikely, it's safe to say that Shurmur will not coach the Browns in 2013 – which sets up a proverbial dead man walking situation.
However, if Shurmur wants to survive beyond 2012, he has some options.
Short of completely scrapping his offense in favor of a more progressive
high school NFL system, Shurmur needs to immediately cede offensive play calling duties to either Brad Childress or Mark Whipple. Before the Browns take another regular season snap, Shurmur needs to make the following statement:
"There have been far too many offensive, defensive and special teams mistakes occurring throughout the first four games. Because I am the Head Coach of the entire team, I need to fully devote my practice and game day energies to the entire team. I am turning over offensive play calling duties to ….."
And so on and so forth.
Of course, knowing how Shurmur operates, he would instead just throw several players under the bus, threaten Greg Little, pick on Eric Hagg and continue to exhibit his passive-aggressive scared jock behavior.
But regardless of the message, Shurmur could turn his ill-fitting offense over to a new scapegoat and begin to absolve himself of sole responsibility for something that isn't working. As we have learned over the years, the two biggest targets in Cleveland (after the Quarterback) are the Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator. Of course, Shurmur has combined the two and created a mega-target out of himself.
In separating himself from his offense, Shurmur could actually function as a game manager – the kind of Head Coach who doesn't look completely surprised when the crowd wants him to throw a challenge flag. Or at the least, Shurmur would become a visible presence on the sidelines and not act as a somber-faced, glorified quarterback coach who only communicates with a select few players.
Basically, Shurmur needs to make a quantum leap into becoming a vibrant, observant, confident and ultimately successful NFL Head Coach. And if the offense still only still only scores one touchdown a game – blame Brad Childress.
In order to both impress his new boss and save his current job, he needs to do this now.
Anyway, it's an idea and one that Shurmur would probably never consider. After 20 games, it's become evident that Shurmur will either thrive or perish with his offense. Call it brazen or stubborn or just a reflection of a coordinator who probably wasn't ready to become a Head Coach, but the clock is clearly ticking for Shurmur in Cleveland.
At this point, Shurmur should be trying anything in order to survive.