by Alex Dimond
As a Browns fan from across the pond in Britain, following my team is not always that easy.
Sure, the team’s five live televised games this season gave me a greater than normal opportunity to see how things were going, but many of them have been (and are still to be) televised at a time that doesn’t really fit in that well with my sleeping patterns.
As a result, most of my information comes from the short highlights shown on NFL.com, and the many articles around the internet that pass comment on my adopted team.
At the moment, the mood surrounding the organisation is hugely pessimistic. This is not without good reason — after all, the team is currently 4-8, relying on its third-string quarterback, and has a General Manager with a penchant for firing off expletive strewn emails to any fan that dares to offer some (constructive) criticism.
For many Browns fans, the 2008 season is already a complete disaster — made even more disappointing considering the huge optimism that arose from the 10-6 term enjoyed last year.
As a result, perhaps not unnaturally, many fans are calling for wholesale changes to be made — both to the playing and coaching staff — to prevent a similarly abject performance next year round.
Now, feel free to dismiss my opinion out of hand, but I don’t think this sort of knee-jerk reaction is what is called for.
A bad season — especially in the NFL — doesn’t make a bad team.
I’m just asking for a little perspective.
16 games is nowhere near long enough to pass judgement on the quality of a team. Over here in Britain, our “football” season lasts 38 games, plus cup matches — usually adding up to around 50 matches a season for the big teams.
That is how long it takes to define a successful season.
If a team has had 16 bad games, then that might constitute a slump in form — but even the trigger-happy British press would refrain from writing a team off after such a short period.
It is same for other aspects of the NFL. Take, for instance, the storyline of Week 1 this year — Tom Brady’s “season-ending” injury. Of course, this sounds horribly impressive, until you realise that a season is only 17 weeks (and another four if the team makes the playoffs).
With that in mind, a whole host of comparatively minor injuries can be classed as season ending — a particularly bad thigh strain, for example, or a recurrence of ligament damage.
If you want a proper season ending injury, talk to Arsenal’s Croatian forward Eduardo (caution — link has a couple of graphic pictures). Nine months on, he still isn’t back to full fitness.
Basically, the point I am making is this — an NFL season isn’t long enough to pass any form of judgement. After all, the Browns are still substantially the same team that went 10-6 in 2007.
They might go 4-12, yet such radical changes in yearly results are far from uncommon.
A bad team simply doesn’t beat the New York Giants — but the Browns managed it earlier this season. That indicates the quality of playing personnel they have at their disposal.
People just seem to be forgetting it.
Braylon Edwards is undoubtedly a top wide receiver. Yes, he is dropping everything he looks at this year, but last year he recorded over 1,000 yards receiving. That, not to mention his college career, indicates pure class — and as the saying goes, “form is temporary, class is permanent.”
Like many others on the offense, he is just in a slump at the moment. He will emerge from it, perhaps even stronger than before.
At quarterback, things look reasonably promising. Brady Quinn showed enough in his three starts this year to give many Browns fans cause for optimism, and should be ready to lead the offense next year.
Derek Anderson might well be done in Ohio — but getting his salary off the books will free up space to pursue other targets.
Many people seem keen to see the back of Kellen Winslow. But why exactly is this? I know that he has had his troubles this year (and last year, and the year before…) but at the end of the day he is almost the prototype of a modern tight-end.
How many of those are there in the league?
If the coaches can sort his head out — and surely they should take much of the blame for the fact they haven’t so far — then he could become crucial to Quinn’s offence next year.
Okay, so I am not quite sure what to say about Donte’ Stallworth. This season obviously hasn’t been what he or the organization would have intended, but then he has been hampered by injury.
Given a free and easy preseason next time out, he will undoubtedly be a fine accompaniment to Edwards, and give Quinn the sort of options that should allow him to flourish.
Obviously, there are areas of concern. The defence is not quite performing up to scratch at the minute, with everything looking a bit slow. But this can be fixed.
Willie McGinest is obviously going to retire, allowing a fresh young go-getter to be thrown into the mix. Kamerion Wimbley has shown a lot of promise, and Shaun Rogers has almost single-handedly been marshalling the D-line.
Quite clearly, there are some positives — D’Qwell Jackson is currently leading the league in tackles, and any defense that only gives up 10 points against the Colts is far from terrible.
With the right off-season moves — it would be nice for the organization to manage a decent draft for a change, and perhaps make a few quality acquisitions (a running back?) in free agency — the playing staff should be at the level required for playoff contention.
But if anything needs to change, it is in the front office. Romeo Crennel must be more of a lame duck than George W. Bush at this point in time, as the team obviously need a fresh coaching outlook.
Some of Crennel’s decisions this year have been frankly ludicrous, and he and the rest of his coaching staff have obviously not managed to get the likes of Winslow and Edwards in the right frame of mind.
As a collective, the front office don’t seem to be able to play-call, coach, or draft — so what are they doing in a job?
Yet, if the front office lineup is changed for the better, everything could be set to make 2009 a memorable year for all the right reason.
In the meantime, 2008 is already a write-off for the Browns, and the final four games look destined to be excruciatingly painful for all involved. But this shouldn’t blind Browns fans to the light at the end of the tunnel.
You may have to squint slightly — but it is definitely there.