Time to sit back and reflect about Browns
Thanksgiving is always a good time to reflect on things.
Truthfully, the November holiday has long been one of my favorites, because it brings together three things I have grown to adore:
Family, turkey and football.
But it occurred to me this year that while Thanksgiving remains a joy, it also comes with a startling fact.
The turkey I’ll be consuming has won as many football games as the Cleveland Browns this season.
It shouldn’t be this way. Especially not on consecutive Thanksgivings.
The Browns are winless on Thanksgiving. They were winless when Thanksgiving came last year, too.
No need to dwell or make to many jokes about this reality. I recently told someone that it’s gotten to the point where the only people who should be allowed to make jokes about the Browns are Browns fans themselves. My immediate impulse, when I hear a national talking head make a joke about my favorite team, is to change the channel and scowl.
There was a time when I’d laugh at the Browns mediocrity, but not anymore.
It’s gotten too ugly. It’s gotten historically bad.
And for me, there is no humor in the franchise’s ineptitude. I care too much about them to laugh.
But at some point, you have to separate yourself from the team as a fan and take an objective look at things.
In the last two seasons — 26 games — the Browns have won once.
As a sports writer, I’ve covered college teams like this before. Heidelberg had a famous 36-game losing streak from 2004-06. Tiffin University went through its own stretch of futility. From 2008-2011 — four seasons — the Dragons won twice.
And it was during one of those years when I was told the one thing that I really can apply to the Browns’ current state.
It was a middle-of-the-week interview with then-Dragons coach Dave Walkosky, in the midst of a long losing streak.
Walkosky only won two games in three years as the Dragons’ coach. But no matter the struggles, he was always pleasant and honest with me.
But on this day, he was frustrated.
“You know,” he told me. “You can’t win with freshmen and sophomores.”
And more than anything else, I think this is the reason the Browns are so bad.
Yes, the Browns have been a mediocre franchise since they returned as an expansion team in 1999. They have only two winning seasons since then.
But they have never been this bad. In the dreary expansion days of 1999 and 2000, then-coach Chris Palmer somehow managed to win five games. From 2001-2014, the Browns were generally horrible.
But they always won at least four games in a season.
That’s bad. But it’s not quite abysmal.
So why are the Browns so bad now?
I think it’s simple.
They’re trying to win with freshmen and sophomores.
Just about everywhere on this team’s roster, there’s youth. The starting quarterback, DeShone Kizer, is a rookie. His two backups, Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan, are each in their second season, only a handful of starts between them.
The Browns receivers are, generally, first-and-second year guys. The best of the bunch appears to be the oft-injured Corey Coleman, last year’s first round draft pick. The others, Ricardo Lewis, Rashard Higgins and Bryce Treggs are second-year guys. Tight end David Njoku? A rookie.
Defense is much the same. The Browns best player on that side of the ball is end Myles Garrett, a freak of nature who at this point may be the only reason to turn on the TV. He’s incredible to watch. He’s also in his first season, and has missed six games due to injury.
Rookies and second-year players are everywhere. Of the 22 starting positions on the Browns offensive and defensive depth chart, I counted seven first-or-second year players. And the kicker, Zane Gonzalez, was a 2017 draft pick.
Yes, some of that is deceiving, since the Browns have had their share of injuries. Joe Thomas, the Browns remarkable right tackle, is out for the season, and second-year player Spencer Drango is starting in his place.
But it’s still startling. Even moreso when you consider the “veterans” starting at this point include guys like fourth-year tailback Isaiah Crowell and third-year do-everything playmaker Duke Johnson. The Browns had veterans, but they inexplicably cut veteran corner Joe Haden and traded linebacker Demario Davis, both of whom were inserted as starters on better teams.
Lots of people like to heap blame on coach Hue Jackson. And I’ll concede the coach isn’t blameless. He can’t be with a 1-25 record.
But what coach would succeed with this roster?
Maybe this team will turn into a powerhouse when these rookies become veterans. For much of this season, I’ve been telling myself the Browns are simply football’s version of the Houston Astros, who stripped their franchise bare, suffered through three straight dismal 100-loss seasons and then emerged as a power that won the last World Series.
But I think that’s more than a wish than a prediction. Yes, one of the Browns’ key decision makers is a baseball guy — Paul DePodesta — but I’m not sure if that makes me feel better.
This is usually the part of a column where I’d dedicate a few paragraphs on how I’d fix things. Who I’d keep, who I’d fire.
But the truth is, I’m lost.
Since 1999, the Browns have tried everything to turn things around. Skilled coordinators. Hotshot college coaches. Great football coaches with other teams who were hired to be executives. General managers who were afraid of press conferences. Analytics guys.
Nothing has worked.
Maybe it’s just this organization’s fate to be horrible.
The only thing the Browns haven’t tried is stability. So maybe the Browns should stick with this group, led by Sashi Brown and DePodesta and Jackson.
But even the most optimistic fan will have a hard time believing after the last two years.
And that’s when things are the most frustrating, when there doesn’t seem to be a solution.
Thanksgiving is a time for reflection. But it’s also a time for reprieve.
So today, enjoy your family and turkey.
And also, enjoy the three NFL games.
And be thankful the Browns aren’t playing in any of them.
Zach Baker is the sports editor for The Advertiser-Tribune.
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