Cleveland Browns bracing for another offseason of change if record doesn't improve after bye
CLEVELAND – Jimmy Haslam has officially owned the Cleveland Browns for three games. It must seem longer than that to him.
Since buying the floundering franchise for $1.05 billion, the truck stop kingpin has sat in his luxury loge and witnessed one win, two narrow losses and a bundle of mistakes by one of the NFL's most inexperienced teams.
Haslam may have seen enough.
Change could be coming again.
Second-year coach Pat Shurmur and the Browns (2-7) stumbled into their bye week desperately needing a break. Following last Sunday's disappointing home loss to Baltimore, several players expressed frustration and even anger at not being able to finish the job and win despite leading the Ravens in the fourth quarter. They expected better, and that's at least a sign of progress.
"It's passionate when you have guys angry," said return specialist/wide receiver Josh Cribbs, in his eighth season with Cleveland. "They don't want to do anything because we lost. I felt like that, too. I'm still angry, but you have to move on."
Shurmur seemed somewhat relieved that there weren't practice schedules to map out or a game plan to devise this week. He and his staff have some time to work on some lingering issues — play calling, third-and-1 situations, communication hiccups — before the Browns play in Dallas on Nov. 18. His team has clearly improved, just not as much as Shurmur hoped
Now 6-19 since taking over in Cleveland, Shurmur bears the scars of developing a young team.
"Sometimes building is painful," he said. "Trust me on that. It just is."
There have been some positives for the Browns in the first nine games. And if not for a dropped touchdown pass at Indianapolis, a game-ending interception that slipped away in the opener against Philadelphia or cornerback Joe Haden's four-game suspension for failing a drug test, Cleveland could have two more wins.
But that's the way it always seems around here.
"It's been a rocky year," said linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. "No one in this locker room expected us to be in the position we are right now. We're in every game, and this year is different than other years I've been here where we feel like we have the team to get over the hump but our record doesn't show it. But at the end of the day, that's what we're judged by, our record, and we're just going to keep fighting and keep moving forward and hopefully get this thing changed around."
With 17 rookies on their active roster, there were bound to be growing pains and the Browns have endured their share.
Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden has been terrific one minute, terrible the next. The first-round pick's 55.1 completion percentage is the league's second-worst, but he has been plagued by a league-leading 31 drops as Cleveland's receivers have struggled to make the routine play. Weeden has gone nine quarters without throwing a touchdown pass, though rookie Josh Gordon dropped one against the Colts, a mistake that brought Haslam out of his seat and prompted him to wave his hand in disgust.
Weeden's struggles in the red zone and fourth quarter — five interceptions and a 63.2 rating — have given supporters of backup Colt McCoy some ammunition, but Shurmur offered his unwavering support to the 29-year-old QB earlier this week. Still, Weeden knows he must get better for the Browns to win and take pressure off Shurmur.
"You have to take pride in scoring touchdowns," Weeden said. "It's being 100 percent on the things that are routine and that's where the great quarterbacks become great. That's what I'm working toward."
It hasn't helped Weeden that the Browns have appeared confused in getting plays in from the sideline. They were forced to burn three timeouts against the Ravens to avoid delay penalties. Shurmur typically consults with offensive coordinator Brad Childress in the press box before the play is passed along to Weeden. Shurmur said he'll spend part of the bye "streamlining" the system.
It's not the only thing he needs to clean up.
Like many of his young players, Shurmur has had to learn on the fly. His first season in Cleveland was partly sabotaged by the lockout, denying precious practices to install his offensive and defensive systems. He made mistakes during games, and some of those errors have resurfaced in his second year. He's running out of time to impress his new boss.
Shurmur has been open with Haslam from the first day. Even before Haslam's purchase was finalized, Shurmur urged him to observe every aspect of the Browns' program, which has been modeled after Philadelphia's. Shurmur, who spent 10 seasons as an assistant with the Eagles, is confident he has the Browns on the right path, but until the record improves there's a strong chance he won't be able to finish what he started.
Shurmur has another seven games to impress Haslam, who won't make any personnel moves until the season's over
"I've got to find a way to get a little bit better in all areas, so that those games like we played Sunday become victories," Shurmur said. "Again, I made the comparison to our Baltimore game here last year (a 24-10 loss). It was a huge difference, although the score wasn't much different. There was a huge difference in the team that we put out there this year than last year.
"We've got to find a way now to take that and get victories. That's what we've got to do."
Shurmur said he and Haslam have only spoken about "the big picture, "and there has not been a specific outline from the owner as to where he needs to see progress.
"What I sense in my conversations with Jimmy is his passion for making this thing right," Shurmur said, "and we all know what that means."
Cribbs fears change is certain. The Browns are 40-80 since he joined the team, losing at least 10 games in six of his first seven seasons. They're on their way to double-digit losses again.
The idea that the Browns will be overhauled again pains Cribbs and some teammates.
"We haven't been winning and there has been consistent turnover here in players and coaches," Cribbs said. "Guys who have been here, we can't get tight-knit. We can't get consistency when there's so much change. It disappoints us. It disappoints me all the time. It's unfortunate, but it's the way this business works. If we don't win, there will be change. It's inevitable."
In Cleveland, it's typical.
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