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Written by Jeff Rich

Jeff Rich

ShurmYou’ll have to ask Pat.

From the President, right down to the players gutting it out on the field through the official half-way point in this 2012 season of Cleveland Browns football, Pat Shurmur must have all of the answers because all of the questions are being deflected his way.  However, my question might not be all that complicated.

According to my pre-season prediction, the Browns are ahead of schedule and over-achieving with two victories in their pocket and eight opportunities to add to that total.  2-14 only happens if they’ve put their winning ways behind them, and yes, I am referring to winning of two out of three as winning ways.  We all know that the bar has to be set low, and I’d say that the primary objective for the season, at least win a single game, was achieved on October 14th.

Beyond getting into the win column again, how do we gage success in the second half of the season?

FIf the season ended today, the Browns would be drafting in the fourth slot once again, which puts the Browns about where you’d expect them to be in the pecking order, but considering the mitigating circumstances that come with their .250 winning percentage, I don’t know that I’d give them an “F” grade at the midway point.  Granted, there isn’t an overwhelming pile of evidence that they are any better than their record is, but the eyeball test suggests that they were good enough to steal some games that they should have lost.

Had they done the things they needed to do, in order to steal victory from the jaws of defeat, we would be still be talking about how they need to improve.  Make no mistake about it; no matter how far we think this team has come, success mandates drastic improvement.  Improvement doesn’t show up in the standings; wins and losses do.  Improvement might be the difference between 3-13 and 6-10.  Drastic improvement means playing meaningful games in January or, at the very least, December.  All things considered, this football team has earned themselves a grade of “D” through eight weeks of football.  They can only progress or regress from the point, there is no standing still.

Near Failure

billsIf we see any of what we saw from Brandon Weeden in Week 1, and that includes struggling to make it through the pre-game festivities, that’s a step in the wrong direction.  Frankly, there are many ways for the Browns to fail at this point, but it starts with Weeden.  Trent Richardson, sans a few nice moments, wasn’t able to do much in the opener either, but the Eagles teed off on him because the passing game did nothing to keep them honest about it.  Pat Shurmur made some questionable decisions as well, but I don’t want to imply that sentiment be quarantined to one particular game; this isn’t Shurmur’s first barbeque, even if Holmgren wants us to think in the terms of it being his 2nd first barbeque.

The new rookies bounced back well a week later against a Cincinnati defense that is fairly comparable to the scout team that Weeden and Richardson see in practice.  Before I can even catch my breath to praise Dick Jauron’s defense for the dominating play in Week 1, they lose Joe Haden, and look completely lost in every way against a good Cincinnati offense that actually isn’t good at all.  It had us all thinking, maybe they can put forth a good effort on both sides of the ball; they might just pull one of these out at some point in the season.  Instead, it was just more inconsistency, a symptom of being a bad team that’s poorly coached.

In the games that they won, they were able to overcome adversity.  They didn’t run away with either of their victories, but they fought to the end and walked away with wins.  That probably isn’t going to be enough every week, because they do lack talent, but I’d hope to see some consistency on both sides of the ball.  If they can’t do that, they fail; that’s regression.  To be blunt, that result feels like the inevitable end of The Shurmur Dynasty in Cleveland.

Striving for Mediocrity

But, maybe they don’t have to fail.  Maybe Haden will avoid whatever it is that kept him off the field for 4 of the team’s 6 losses, and with Phil Taylor, maybe Jauron’s unit will perform well at full strength.  Maybe Pat is better than what we give him credit for; now that the rookies have their sea legs underneath them, this would be a good time to prove everyone wrong.

ShurmurIt may not be fair, but Shurmur has a lot of ground to make up, and not a lot of time to do it.  We know that two more wins isn’t enough to prove to anyone that he is capable of coaching a winning football team.  Hell, he won four games last year, and we entered this season (as fans) hoping that every breath we took drew us one closer to the last we’d take as Browns fans dealing with “Shurmurball”.  But, Pat had little to worry about; Uncle Mike was going to be patient.  The problem is, Mike isn’t getting a fourth first year.

Would six wins be enough to convince Mr. Haslam that he has things going in the right direction, that he can be “the guy” even if he’s not the boss’s pick?  I don’t know enough about Mr. Haslam to speculate, but I can tell you that I’m not trusting a head Coach that’s 10-22 (and that’s assuming a 4-4 second half) with my billion dollar product.  My billion would require a truly competent “man in charge”, but that’s just me.

Bear with me on this…seriously, hear me out.  Seven wins could make this a whole new ballgame for Shurmur; it’s still a losing season, but he can’t just pick five pieces of low-hanging fruit to get there.  On the 16-game schedule, there are six that mean a whole hell of a lot more than others.  And, two of those stick out like a soar thumb.  Even the smallest amount of success in those six games would change everything.

If the Browns would show a pulse, any sign of life, against those division opponents, more than just a token “we suck less” performance against the occasional in-state piñata, NFL fans don’t view the Cleveland Browns as the pathetic, sorry sacks of you-know-what that we’ve come to expect.  Their October 14th win over Cincinnati, the aforementioned piñata, was their first Division win since 2010.  They took down the Steelers on a cold December night in 2009, and it took OT the last time they took down the Ravens in 2007.

For an acceptable 7-9 season, they have to salvage the season split against the Ravens on Sunday.  It’s a must-win game; forget everything else if they lose on Sunday.  They might as well fire Pat Shurmur, but they won’t, and it might be counter-productive to vacate the boss’s spot without a viable replacement to start preparing them for 2013 and beyond.

If they go into the bye week with a 2-game winning streak, I’d almost be content with them struggling in Dallas on November 18th (especially since I’ve opted not to make the road-trip to see the house that Jerry built).  Beating Dallas on the road doesn’t make or break Pat Shurmur’s coaching career in my mind.  Although, Saban and Belichick came away with a 19-14 win for the Browns over Aikman’s Cowboys in 1994, and good things followed.  But forget the NFC, the next week is the 2012 team’s first crack at Pittsburgh, and they only get two.

BrownsFor the sake of my sanity, for the sake of Cleveland pride, and for the sake of getting some gosh-darn respect around the league, they have to start beating Pittsburgh.  I thoroughly enjoyed that 2009 beating of the Steelers, and it needs to happen more often.  Our pathetic 1999 and 2000 Browns took down the team from Western Pennsylvania in consecutive seasons, but I don’t recall the win before 2009.  For the love of God, was Tim Couch on the field the time before that?  (Yup, in 2003)

If the Browns can just get two of those three remaining AFC North games, that means a 3-3 year in the division, a team best since 2007.  It would also be the first time in their 14-year existence of the Expansion Era that they wouldn’t be swept.  That dream could end on Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium, but it’s something to think about.

The games that remain outside of the AFC North umbrella include trips to Dallas, Oakland, and Denver with the Redskins and Chiefs visiting Cleveland Browns Stadium.  The Browns could lose all five of those games, but an improved team might just take 3 or 4 (at Denver on December 23rd is highly unlikely).

How About Boring Old Greatness?

No matter how much you loathe the notion of going forward with Pat Shurmur as the Head Coach of the Cleveland Browns after this season, there’s one thing that would make for a tough case against it.  What if the Browns don’t lose another game?  10-6 starts here, right?

The thought of too much success scares me half to death.  We know it could happen because it happened to us in 2007.  Romeo Crennel chose Charlie Frye as the starter, and the Steelers got their pound of flesh from Frye and the Browns in Week 1.  Then, the front office sent Charlie as far from Cleveland as they could, and Derek Anderson took the reigns and won as many games as he could without winning a meaningful game.  For once, the fear of winning was not about a draft pick, Dallas owned that for giving Phil Savage the privilege of drafting Brady Quinn.  The issue was that it gave Crennel a second lame duck season, and 2008 was brutal.  We don’t recall how bad 2008 was because 2009, 2010, 2011, and the first half of 2012 have all been equally bad, except for that tremendous finish in 2009.

If you want the truth, I can give you the truth.  The Browns can’t win 6, 7, or all of their final eight games.  They could very easily pull a Blutarsky down the home stretch.  I don’t even need to explain how that happens; if you’ve watched more than few Browns games since 1999, you understand how this happens without explanation.

ManningIf you don’t mind me lying through my teeth, I can tell you that they can win every game except one, and they can win that game if they’re facing Brock Osweiler in Denver in Week 16.  Peyton Manning against the Browns, who will have their share of injuries on defense by then, it’s a recipe for the unpleasant.  What matchup do the Browns win, Manning versus Jauron or Fox versus Shurmur?

There’s good news on the horizon if you can accept a loss there.  It means we aren’t holding our breath, hoping the Browns close out the season with consecutive road wins in Denver and Pittsburgh.  Before that, Kansas City and Washington appear to be very winnable, but that’s assuming Bob Griffin is physically unable to perform for the Redskins.  If he plays, karma is in play, and we can expect to be reminded that Mike Holmgren didn’t do what it took to secure his services every four years on the schedule rotation.  Based on what the Chiefs have done, I’m comfortable saying the Browns have a shot in that one, even if they sleepwalk through it.

Then again, Kansas City can sleepwalk and wipe the floor with the Browns.  As we saw when the Titans visited last season and when the Bills came to town September, Shurmurball yields ways for the least common denominator, like this year’s Chiefs and Raiders, to find success without effort.  We never like to rule out the Browns stealing one or two in a season, but must also factor the inevitable give-away game, where they steal defeat from the jaws of victory.

As far as Shurmur is concerned, for Mr. Halsam and (Team President) Mr. Banner to even consider anything beyond this year is going to require 8 wins; that’s 6 more.  If he gets there, he probably deserves consideration for 2013 and beyond.

It starts Sunday against the Ravens.  Reality check: is there any way on Earth…

You’ll have to ask Pat.

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